Science Panel, Pope Criticize Embryonic Stem Cell Research

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Nov 11, 2003   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Science Panel, Pope Criticize Embryonic Stem Cell Research

by Steven Ertelt Editor
November 11, 2003

Washington, DC ( — A scientific panel and Pope John Paul II criticized embryonic stem cells this week, but for different reasons.

A panel of research scientists convened by Johns Hopkins University said the embryonic stem cells that qualified for President Bush’s limited funding are not usable and that it would both unethical and medically dangerous to treat people with them.

When President Bush, in August 2001, announced that taxpayer funding would not be extended to any new embryonic stem cell research, his decision allowed only a very limited number of cell lines to be eligible for funding.

Some scientists blasted the decision then and reiterated their concerns this week, saying that the limited stem cell lines were initially grown using mouse stem cells to encourage cell growth. That has contaminated many of the embryonic stem cell lines making them unusable.

To compound the situation, the panel said, there were only 11 embryonic stem cell lines available for funding when Bush made his decision, not 70 as they previously thought.

That some of the 11 are contaminated essentially means that Bush cut off all federal funding of embryonic stem cell research.

The researchers say Bush should authorize taxpayer funding for new stem cell lines to replace them.

"Conducting a federally funded clinical trial of human (embryonic stem cells), under current federal policy, would require using cell lines that none of us feel should be used in people, since it is now feasible to create safer lines," said Ruth Faden, who directed the panel.

"So, all clinical trials — and by extension the experiments leading to them — should be conducted with newer cell lines not eligible for federal funding. The likelihood of getting to a clinical trial using only private funds, however, is very slim," Faden said.

Meanwhile, Pope John Paul II on Monday denounced as "morally contradictory" any medical treatments used that are based on embryonic stem cell research.

The Pope said stem cell research "has understandably grown in importance in recent years because of the hope it offers for the cure of ills affecting many people.”

Though he could benefit from the research, the Pope said "stem cells for purposes of experimentation or treatment cannot come from human embryo tissue.”

Both the Catholic Church and pro-life groups favor adult stem cell research saying it uses cells from more ethical sources and they have proven more effective in clinical trials and in use on patients.

"Any treatment which claims to save human lives, yet is based on human life in its embryonic state, is logically and morally contradictory, as is any production of human embryos for the direct or indirect purpose of experimentation or eventual destruction,” the pope told participants in a meeting organized by the Pontifical Academy of the Sciences.

President Bush has also called for a ban on human cloning and strongly backed both a complete human cloning ban in Congress and a treaty banning all cloning in the United Nations.

Last week, the UN put off a vote on a human cloning ban for two years and, in Congress, the Senate has yet to vote on two competing cloning measures.