Dubious Embryonic Stem Cell Research Method Shouldn’t Get Federal Funds

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Jan 13, 2008   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Dubious Embryonic Stem Cell Research Method Shouldn’t Get Federal Funds Email this article
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by Laura Echevarria
January 13, 2008

LifeNews.com Note: Laura Echevarria is a LifeNews.com opinion columnist. She is the former Director of Media Relations and a spokesperson for the National Right to Life Committee and has been a radio announcer, freelance writer active in local politics.

The January 11th Washington Post ran an article reporting on a new method of harvesting stem cells from embryos. Researchers at Advanced Cell Technologies (ACT) in Massachusetts claimed that their technique of removing only one stem cell from an eight-celled embryo should allow them to qualify for federal funds that have been designated for ethical stem cell research.

Their reasoning is that the majority of the embryos involved in the experiments survived after the single cells were harvested.

Well, let’s look at the facts.

First, federal funding is based on Hippocrates’ admonition to “do no harm.” While researchers used a technique that is often used in infertility treatments to test the health of embryos before implantation, the only way to know for certain if the embryos in the experiment were harmed would be to bring the embryos to term by implanting them in a woman’s womb.

That would be unethical and illegal.

Second, while studies have not been done on the survival rate of embryos in infertility clinics that have been biopsied, one study published in July showed that parents who have had the embryos biopsied before implantation have a 30 percent lower chance of giving birth. According the Post, one source noted that the studies that have been done have had flaws.

So no one knows for certain if the embryos would be okay or not but the researchers are asserting that because the technique is identical to that used in infertility clinics and a majority of those embryos survive to become full-term babies, they should receive federal funding.

Third, from a practical perspective, other researchers and scientists in the know described the technique of harvesting just one stem cell as very difficult.

Kathy Hudson, director of the Genetics and Public Policy Center at Johns Hopkins University commented to the Post, “Embryo biopsy is tricky and requires extraordinarily good hands and technical skills. And even in the best hands, embryos are sometimes lost.” Embryos that survived the biopsy were then allowed to grow for five days to assure researchers that the embryos were alive before they were frozen.

Mmmm — the idea behind the federal policy is to “do no harm.”

Let’s see — you take an embryo, remove one-eighth of it using a fallible technique, use an unregulated industry as a source for your claims, freeze the embryos indefinitely after verifying that the majority survived and continued to grow for five days (84 percent)—and you want to claim “no harm?”

I think these researchers are missing the point. Living human beings designated for research were experimented upon with the hope that they would survive and grow. Of course, after the experiments, the embryos couldn’t be implanted (because they were designated for research) so they were frozen — a kind of embryo limbo.

It’s an interesting way of defining the concept of “do no harm.”

Malcolm Muggeridge, the British journalist, once said, “Either life is always and in all circumstances sacred, or intrinsically of no account; it is inconceivable that it should be in some cases the one, and in some the other.”

President Bush promised Americans that federal funding would not be used to fund research that destroys or harms human embryos.

The results announced by ACT may, in a very narrow sense, abide by the letter of President Bush’s stem cell research funding policy. However, the research ignores the spirit of the policy and violates the principle behind it, which is that human life is sacred regardless of its stage of development.