Senate Holds Hearing on Supposed Embryonic Stem Cell Research Alternative

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Sep 6, 2006   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Senate Holds Hearing on Supposed Embryonic Stem Cell Research Alternative Email this article
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by Steven Ertelt Editor
September 6
, 2006

Washington, DC ( — A Senate committee held a hearing on a new technique that a biotech firm claims is able to isolate embryonic stem cells without harming the human embryo. Senators rebuked the head of the Advanced Cell Technology team who made the claim, which was later modified as all of the human embryos died in the process.

Last month, ACT published a paper in the journal Nature claiming to have used the single-cell biopsy technique called Preimplantation Genetic Diagnosis (PGD) to obtain stem cells from 16 human embryos without killing them.

However, further examination shows all 16 of the days-old unborn children died in the process and Nature eventually changed its own press release twice that touted the study.

ACT also claimed to have removed just one cell from each human embryo in its press release, but the paper showed 4-7 cells were removed, killing the days-old unborn child.

Sen. Arlen Specter, a Pennsylvania Republican who is a leading backer of forcing taxpayers to fund embryonic stem cell research, scolded Robert Lanza, the ACT vice president who led the research team.

Specter said Lanza’s mischaracterization of his team’s research hurt the cause of those who back the controversial research, which has yet to help any patients and have problems in animal treatments.

"You made our job a lot tougher," he said, according to a Reuters report. He called the reports of ACT’s success "dramatic albeit false."

Specter said that lawmakers wanting to mandate federal funding for embryonic stem cell research would have to craft a new bill rather than trying again to pass the measure President Bush vetoed.

"We have to start again with a whole new bill and we will do it," he told reporters later, according to Reuters. He indicated he did not yet have enough votes to override the veto.

Lanza defended his work during the Senate Labor, Health and Human Services subcommittee hearing and the accuracy of his statements about it.

"This technique has been used throughout the world for years and years," Lanza responded. "Everything I said is absolutely correct and accurate."

"It is not fair. It is not right," Lanza said later about the questioning, according to Reuters. "I know for a fact that removing the cell does not impact the embryo."

Pro-life advocates said the ACT study did nothing to alleviate concerns about embryonic stem cell research.

Bioethics professor C. Ben Mitchell of Trinity International University says the claim is just “ethical smoke and mirrors" and says its study does not really show what it claims to show.

“There are huge unresolved ethical problems here,” says Mitchell, in a statement obtained.

He says PGD has ethical problems of its own and that the long-term effects of removing a cell or cells from an early embryo are unknown. He said it’s likely that some of the unborn children do not survive the procedure — and pointed out that ACT’s paper indicated 16 human beings were destroyed in the process of developing the technique.

"Using healthy embryos in research that could harm them is not morally justifiable,” Mitchell said. “Life threatening experiments should only be done by consent or, in the case of children, with parents’ consent and only where the experiment might benefit the child. These embryos had nothing to gain by being used like laboratory rats.”

Mitchell also came to the same conclusion as Richard Doerflinger of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, who objected to the ACT claim in part because the one cell taken from the human embryo can become a unique human being.

Dr. David Prentice, a former Indiana State University biology professor now affiliated with the Family Research Council, agrees.

Prentice notes that the President’s Council on Bioethics has already considered this technique and has unanimously rejected it.