Report: Stem Cell Research Debate Over, Embryonic Side Lost

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Jul 12, 2012   |   12:24PM   |   Washington, DC

A new report released today by the Charlotte Lozier Institute takes a comprehensive look at the stem cell research debate and comes to the conclusion that proponents of embryonic stem cell research have lost.

The new report analyzes the history and trajectory of funding for stem cell research by the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine and it reveals the scientific community now views morally unproblematic alternatives to embryonic stem cells as the best hope for progress toward effective treatments and therapies.

Launched in 2004 as a response to the Bush Administration’s unwillingness to force taxpayers to fund new embryonic stem cell research that destroys human life to obtain stem cells for research that still hasn’t helped a single patient, the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine funneled $75.7.million in California state taxpayer funds to embryonic stem cell research projects in its first year.

However, the Charlotte Lozier Institute report notes CIRM’s growing preference to fund ethical stem cell projects is evidence of the scientific community’s acceptance that the best hope for progress lies in the funding and pursuit of morally unproblematic alternatives like adult stem cells and induced pluripotent stem cells.

“A decade ago researchers, media, and Hollywood alike dismissed moral and ethical concerns to hail stem cell research using, and destroying, human embryos, as the ‘only hope’ for developing efficacious therapies,” said Chuck Donovan, president of the Charlotte Lozier Institute.

He continued: “But despite the millions of dollars spent on this research, cures brought about by embryonic stem cells have continued to prove elusive, while adult stem cell research applications have exploded. As the leading funder of stem cell research, the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine has made grant decisions that show where the industry sees promise.  In the past six years, where that promise lies has become increasingly clear: ethical adult stem cell research.”

The report concludes this way:

In 1999, when then-President Clinton’s National Bioethics Advisory Commission (NBAC) first endorsed federal funding for hESCR it recognized that the research raises serious ethical concerns and that “human embryos deserve respect as a form of human life.”

For this reason, NBAC made pursuit of the research conditional: harvesting “left-over” IVF embryos for stem cells “is justifiable only if no less morally problematic alternatives are available for advancing the research (at pg. 53).” In other words, given the ethical problems associated with it, hESCR should not be pursued if viable, ethically non-contentious alternatives to it exist. At the time, the NBAC judged that such alternatives did not exist; however, that judgment was provisional and “is a matter that must be revisited continually as science advances.”

The trajectory of CIRM’s grant-making since 2007 – halfway into its 10-year life —certainly argues that such alternatives to hESCR do indeed exist.18 CIRM’s “natural evolution” to placing increasing emphasis on clinical trials has led it to provide more and more resources to adult and other non-embryonic avenues of stem cell research, and fewer and fewer to hESCR.

Adult stem cells may be “less glamorous” in some esoteric sense than their embryonic counterparts, but in terms of arriving at real therapeutic benefits for patients, they are the warhorses getting the job done. As CIRM’s grants show, the “alternative” has now become the preferred option.

In light of this, it is reasonable to ask, in the spirit of NBAC’s recommendation, is human embryonic stem cell research still “justifiable”?



Read the full report at