Researchers Make Embryonic Stem Cells From Dead Human Embryo

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Sep 25, 2006   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Researchers Make Embryonic Stem Cells From Dead Human Embryo Email this article
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by Steven Ertelt Editor
September 25
, 2006

London, England ( — Scientists say they have made an embryonic stem cell line from a human embryo who died naturally. If so, they claim to have found another possibility for obtaining embryonic stem cells without purposefully destroying human life — which prompts pro-life advocates to object to the research.

If the process works, the scientists say it would be no more ethically objectionable than organ donation but others say it has both scientific and ethical problems.

Miodrag Stojkovic of the Prince Felipe Research Center in Valencia, Spain and colleagues in Britain published their work in the journal Stem Cells last Thursday.

The teams used human embryos donated by their parents who had been dead for 24 to 48 hours at various points during the early days of their development. According to their report, they were able to make an entire stem cell line from just one of the dead embryos.

Stojkovic wrote that the embryonic stem cells performed normally in a series of tests.

Dr. Donald Landry of the Columbia University Medical Center in New York originally proposed the idea of obtaining embryonic stem cells from dead human embryos in 2004.

They previously told members of the President’s Council on Bioethics that scientists 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.

"Regardless of how you feel about personhood for embryos, if the embryo is dead, then the issue of personhood is resolved," Landry told the Associated Press about the new study. "This then reduces the ethics of human embryonic stem cell generation to the ethics of, say, organ donation."

But Robin Lovell-Badge of the Medical Research Council’s National Institute for Medical Research in London told AP there is no way to prove that the human embryo is really dead unless placed into the mother’s womb.

Rev. Tad Pacholczyk, director of education for the National Catholic Bioethics Center in Philadelphia, agreed and said that he would wonder if the human embryo has really died if the unique human being’s cells were alive enough to produce stem cell lines.

Other scientists say that using such cells could present a problem because they may contain diseases or defects that caused the human embryo to die.

Dr. Gene Rudd, associate executive director of Christian Medical & Dental Association, has previously said he still has ethical concerns about the new idea.

"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 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.