Pro-Life Advocates Continue Response to New Embryonic Stem Cell Methods

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Dec 10, 2004   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Pro-Life Advocates Continue Response to New Embryonic Stem Cell Methods Email this article
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by Steven Ertelt Editor
December 10, 2004

Washington, DC ( — Pro-life advocates continue to chime in with their thoughts on two proposals for harvesting embryonic stem cells that proponents say can obtain the cells without destroying human lives. President Bush’s Council on Bioethics heard the proposals last week.

Dr. Gene Rudd, associate executive director of Christian Medical & Dental Association, told the Christian Post newspaper that he still has ethical concerns about the new ideas.

"When you say embryos can be used because they are going to be dead, you start crossing a line where abuses take place," Dr. Rudd said.

"We’ve had so many doctors who were so ambitious in getting the organs that they ignored the dignity of human life of the patients," Rudd explained. "They were driven by the motive that clouded their judgment."

Rudd is referring to a proposal by Columbia University researchers Donald Landry and Howard Zucker. They argue that researchers could extract embryonic stem cells from human embryos originally created through in vitro fertilization that are thought to be no longer capable of being born.

They told the Bioethics Council 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.

Rudd is also concerned that the in vitro process often creates more embryos than are needed — human lives that are eventually destroyed.

"You should never create an excess number of embryos with the intention of discarding them," Rudd told the Post.

Rudd also cautioned that some are so keen on finding embryonic stem cells, despite their ineffectiveness, that they’re willing to cross any moral boundary, however small, to get them.

"We are so dense on obtaining embryos for stem cell research that we are willing to go to extremes as this and find some loopholes in our ethical boundaries," Rudd said.

The other newly-proposed method, called alternate nuclear transfer, 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.

A Southern Baptist bioethicist, C. Ben Mitchell, told Baptist Press that he appreciates the desire to try to remove ethical concerns, but he is still cautious about the ideas.

"[These] proposals might be two ways to move forward, but no one knows at this point," Mitchell told BP. "And no one can know without learning more about the science of embryogenesis and about the nuances of their proposals."

"Since I favor ethically responsible science and since I think vivisection of human embryos is morally unacceptable, then I would favor research using animal models to see if it is possible to generate non-embryos from which stem cells might be derived," said Mitchell, an associate professor of bioethics at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in suburban Chicago.

Hurlbut has said he would start with research on animals to prove his theory before suggesting that the research be conducted on humans.

Other pro-life bioethicists have also suggested proceeding cautiously.