Pro-Life Advocates Cautious on New Embryonic Stem Cell Research Methods

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Dec 8, 2004   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Pro-Life Advocates Cautious on New Embryonic Stem Cell Research Methods Email this article
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by Steven Ertelt Editor
December 8, 2004

Washington, DC ( — Scientists have brought new methods for conducting embryonic stem cell research to President Bush’s Council on Bioethics. Although the new methods appear to obtain embryonic stem cells without destroying human life, pro-life advocates remain cautious.

One method involves turning off certain developmental genes and causing a nonfertilized egg to divide and multiply as it would if fertilized by human sperm.

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.

What would be created would not be a human embryo in the normal sense of a unique human being, he explained.

Carrie Gordon Earll, bioethics analyst at Focus on the Family, says she’s not sure if such a method would satisfy ethical concerns pro-life advocates have about destruction of human life.

"At this point, we are encouraging no policy decisions be made on this idea," Earll told Family News in Focus. "This needs to be fleshed out, it needs to be discussed. We really need more information."

"Would this technique prevent the creation of a human embryo, or would it create a genetically defective human embryo? And until we can answer that question, it falls into the gray zone," she explained.
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.

Scientists could prevent normal conception from occurring, thus producing a human embryo but not one with a full set of DNA or one that could survive if implanted into a mother’s uterus. Stem cells could be obtained, Hurlbut says, without destroying a unique human life.

But Dr. David Prentice, science adviser for the Family Research Council, worries the technique would only create more ethical problems.

"We don’t want to be saying that you’re getting these cells by killing someone that you have purposely crippled, even at the embryonic stage," Prentice, also a professor at Indiana State University, said.

"It also takes the focus off what has been working, what has been successful—and that’s adult stem cells, (umbilical) cord-blood stem cells," Prentice told Family News in Focus. "We need our focus on the successful and ethical types of research."

Hurlbut, who opposes embryonic stem cell research, said the technology exists to experiment on his proposal. However, he cautioned that research on animals should be done first to ensure that human life is not destroyed.

In another newly-proposed 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.

Columbia University researchers Donald Landry and Howard Zucker 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.