Bioethics Council: Mixed Reviews of New Embryonic Stem Cell Methods

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   May 16, 2005   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Bioethics Council: Mixed Reviews of New Embryonic Stem Cell Methods Email this article
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by Steven Ertelt Editor
May 16, 2005

Washington, DC ( — The President’s Council on Bioethics on Thursday released a new report on four proposed methods of embryonic stem cell research that supporters hope can obtain embryonic stem cells without destroying human life. The report called two of the ideas "ethically problematic."

"Much of the ethical controversy over stem cells derives from the fact that, until now, the only way to obtain human pluripotent stem cell lines has been to derive them from living human embryos by a process that necessarily destroys the embryos," the report says.

It adds, "If a way could be found to derive such stem cell lines without creating and destroying human embryos, a good deal of that ethical controversy would subside."

That was the message of scientists in December who hoped to get the panel to support possible alternatives to embryonic stem cell research.

The 18 member panel provided a brief overview of the possibilities.

"Stem cells might be obtainable from dead embryos; from living embryos, by nondestructive biopsy; from bioengineered embryo-like artifacts; and from reprogrammed adult somatic cells," the report says.

However the panel called taking cells from living embryos through nondestructive biopsy and from bioengineered embryo-like artifacts "ethically problematic."

The council did say it might be possible to salvage stem cells from dead embryos — who died while frozen at fertility clinics. Sometimes that happens because the human embryo has damaged cells, which couldn’t be used.

Scientists liken the process of taking stem cells from such "deceased" frozen embryos to organ donation.

The second methods to receive support from the council involved taking stem cells from reprogrammed adult somatic cells, an idea that comes from the technique to clone animals.

When the nucleus from an adult cell is inserted into an unfertilized egg, the egg can make the nucleus return to an "embryonic state," according to scientists. The council suggested more research on how and why this happens.

Not everyone agreed with the consensus.

Michael Gazzaniga, a professor of neurology at Dartmouth College, called the techniques "high-risk gambles" that evaded the question of whether embryonic stem cell research should be conducted.

Janet Rowley, a cell biologist at the University of Chicago, said she saw nothing wrong with destroying human embryos from fertility clinics for research.

Pro-life advocates reacted cautiously to the proposals, but Sean Tipton, a spokesperson biotech groups that favor embryonic stem cell research, told Reuters that research destroying human life still holds the most promise and he said scientists were getting impatient and ready to do more such research.

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay said Thursday that a vote on a bill to overturn President Bush’s limits on taxpayer funding of the destructive research would oocur before the August recess. He indicated the vote would come "sooner rather than later," according to a Congressional Quarterly report.

Related web sites:
President’s Council on Bioethics –