The idea of human stem cell cloning has proponents inciting images of pop cult icons like Frankenstein and ranting Michael Stipe lyrics claiming, “It’s the end of the world as we know it.” Perhaps we are too close on the heels of “Attack of the Clones” for people to distance themselves from the reality of cloning from the influence of Hollywood and Washington. But before we get carried away, be aware that stem cell research is facing extinction in a new bill recently re-introduced and passed in the U.S. House.
According to the New York Times, “The Republican-backed measure would outlaw cloning experiments – or, more precisely, the scientific procedure known as somatic cell nuclear transfer – either for baby making or medical research.”
A million dollar fine and ten years in prison could face anyone attempting to clone human embryos, but the bill would also ban medical therapies that were derived from cloning research and imported back to the U.S. Those arguing that the bill maintains research fail to mention that presently the only stem cell lines available could indeed diminish or prove incapable of being used for research. This bill would not allow for any replacement stem cell lines in the future, not even for possible research.
In a release from the White House, August 9, 2001, George W. Bush issued a statement which confirmed the potential for positive benefits from embryonic stem cell research. In keeping with his pro-life stance, he outlawed further development of any more stem cell lines. But, he allowed 60 known stem cell lines, “where the life and death decision has already been made,” to be made available to scientists for research.
Research could continue, as the President put it, “without crossing a fundamental moral line by providing taxpayer funding that would sanction or encourage further destruction of human embryos that have at least the potential for life.”
The recent bill passed by the House does allow research on the 60 known stem cell lines identified by the National Institute for Health. But, the legislation outlaws research on future embryonic stem cells, even those from consenting donors that were created in in vitro fertilization processes.
While most people believe that the premise for the bill, which is to outlaw human cloning, is good-few realize the full impact of the legislation. For instance, current work here and abroad on diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases will suddenly become illegal, not just un-funded. Eventually, if there is no way to replenish existing stem cell lines, all embryonic stem cell research will end.
So why are embryonic stem cells arguably so controversial? Embryonic stem cells are harvested from the inner cell mass of a week-old embryo. In scientific terms these cells are “pluripotentiality,” in that they contain the potential to develop fully or partially into any particular body part in a lab or whole body when carried to term by a female.
For the record: The only embryonic stem cells that can, presently, be used for research have come from excess embryos developed in the course of in vitro fertility treatments, without compensation, and with the consent of the donors. These cells are never implanted into a female and are destroyed if they are not used.
Many embryos are created artificially when fertilization treatments are used to produce an offspring for many couples having trouble conceiving but not all get implanted. Before the excess are destroyed, scientists should be able to harvest embryonic stem cells from those embryos being discarded. Scientists argue that embryonic stem cells are much more desirable than adult stem cells because adult stem cells are not pluripotent.
Those arguing against this research on the basis of morality should ask themselves if it is moral to deny the infirm comfort and healing? As a person of faith myself, I could not imagine a creator that rewarded you for denying your intellect. If you believe a creator endowed scientists with the skills to provide otherwise childless couples the ability to reproduce using fertility treatments, why would the by-products of these processes not be used for more good, instead of being destroyed? How can one be destroying life and the other not?
No one is saying that scientists should have carte-blanche to experiment as they please! No one should be growing babies, and those that try should be tarred, feathered and locked away. But there should be nothing wrong with using embryonic stems cells for research. Especially when it comes to ones that are developed through, but not used in some type of fertility treatment, that would otherwise be destroyed.
Respectable scientists are not using these stem cells to create “Frankenstein”-or play God. Frankenstein was the fictional creation of a fictional mad scientist trying to play God. That’s a big difference from a real scientist searching for breakthroughs in cures for diseases that could be revolutionary. Sure Frankenstein had disastrous results but would the book and the movie have become such a hit if life had worked out for good old Frank? What entertainment value would that have been by Hollywood standards?
Those reputable scientists today involved in research using stem cells are even seeing results with adult stem cells. Imagine what the possibilities are within embryonic stem cell research, perhaps cures for Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, you know, something revolutionary. By our standards we might praise such accomplishments, but perhaps in the eyes of our creator, something considered revolutionary by us is only what is expected from us.
Only through greater knowledge of life can we expect to gain greater appreciation, and respect, for every aspect of it. Science has brought us many cures for diseases that have threatened vast populations over the years. And most of these discoveries were not without controversy. Certainly we must outlaw growing babies in a lab! But, we must not let our imaginations run wild and kill the potential to discover more information about why we are indeed such unique creations.