President Bush’s Bioethics Council Weighs New Embryonic Stem Cell Methods

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Dec 7, 2004   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

President Bush’s Bioethics Council Weighs New Embryonic Stem Cell Methods Email this article
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by Steven Ertelt Editor
December 7, 2004

Washington, DC ( — At its first meeting since the elections, President Bush’s Council on Bioethics heard about new methods to possibly obtain embryonic stem cells in a more ethical manner that doesn’t involve the destruction of human life.

In one technique, researchers would extract embryonic stem cells from human embryos originally created through in vitro fertilization that are thought to be no longer capable of being born.

In a study conducted by Columbia University researchers Donald Landry and Howard Zucker, they argue that, if the embryo is "dead" and not able to sustain life if implanted into a woman’s uterus, extracting the stem cells will not "kill" the unique human being.

The authors of the study say "biological accidents" sometimes destroy the life of the embryo that in vitro fertilization produces.

If so, they contend using the stem cells would be no different from doctors conducting organ transplants using organs from a recently deceased person.

In another process the council considered, scientists could "intentionally sabotage" a human cloning process resulting in "stem cell precursors" but not a human embryo.

Stanford University biochemist Dr. William Hurlbut, a member of the Council on Bioethics who opposes the destruction of human life through cloning, presented the technique.

Hurlbut said DNA from a donor’s cell can be implanted into a human egg that has had its nucleus removed and then stimulating the egg to divide. By turning off a gene that is necessary for development, scientists could prevent conception from occurring, thus producing a human embryo, and stem cells could be developed without destroying a unique life.

The Washington Post reports that some members of the bioethics council expressed enthusiasm for the proposals while others were skeptical.

"If this pans out scientifically, it will be a major step forward," Dr. Leon Kass, the panel’s chairman, told the Post. "It may provide an opportunity to get through the political impasse" on embryonic stem cell research.

But, Diana Schaub, a political scientist at Loyola College, told the Post that "It seems to me almost too good to be true — that scientific advance would solve a moral dilemma."

According to the Post report, Paul McHugh, a psychiatrist from Johns Hopkins University, said he liked what he saw in the presentations but had not yet made up his mind about whether they solved the ethical problems of embryonic stem cell research.

The ethical concerns prompted President Bush, in August 2001, to limit federal funding of the controversial research.

He prohibited federal funding of any new embryonic stem cell research, but called on the National Institutes of Health to spend $190 million on research involving adult stem cells. Such research has already produced over 120 treatments for diseases and ailments.