Stem Cells - What's The Issue?

Stem Cells – What’s the issue?

Part 1 ~ What are "stem cells"?

Stem cells serve as a sort of repair system for the body. They can theoretically divide without limit to replenish other cells as long as the person or animal is still alive. When a stem cell divides, each new cell has the potential to either remain a stem cell or become another type of cell with a more specialized function, such as a muscle cell, a red blood cell, or a brain cell. You have to have a human being before you can get human stem cells.

Adult Stem Cells: Adult stem cells are found in blood, bone marrow, skin, brain, liver, pancreas, fat, hair follicle, placenta, umbilical cord, and amniotic fluid. The retrieval of these stem cells is relatively easy and does not harm the patient. There is no risk of rejection with adult stem cells because they come from the patients' own bodies. Nor, at least so far, does adult-stem-cell therapy appear to cause tumors.

Embryonic Stem Cells: Embryonic stem cells are extracted from 5- to 7-day-old embryos. The removal of the stem cells kills the embryo. In some cases, cloning is used to create the embryo for the sole purpose of harvesting the stem cells. Researchers will have to overcome two serious difficulties standing in the way of embryonic cell regenerative medicine: (1) embryonic stem cells cause tumors, and (2) embryonic stem cells may be rejected by the immune system.

Let's support promising medical research that everybody can live with.

Part 2 ~ Examples of stem-cell therapy successes

Embryonic stem cells have not helped a single human patient, while adult stem cells and similar ethically acceptable alternatives have helped hundreds of thousands. Following are a few examples.

Adult stem cells

Juvenile diabetes: Fifteen people with serious Type I (juvenile) diabetes became "insulin free" after adult pancreatic islet cell transplants; nine still need no insulin injections. - American Diabetes Assoc. Report, June 24, 2001

Spinal cord injury: A young woman rendered paraplegic by a car accident can move her toes and legs after injection of her own immune-system cells into her severed spinal cord. - Toronto Globe and Mail, June 15, 2001

Immune deficiency: Two children born without immune systems ("bubble boy" syndrome) have left their sterile environment and now lead normal lives after bone marrow stem cell treatment. - Science, The Washington Post, April 28, 2000

Embryonic stem cells

Juvenile diabetes: No person has benefited.

Spinal cord injury: No person has benefited.

Immune deficiency: No person has benefited.

Let's support promising medical research that everybody can live with.

Part 3 ~ Stem cells: Myth vs. Reality

Myth: "Excess embryos are going to be discarded anyway."

Reality: Not necessarily. Today, parents can preserve "excess" embryos for future pregnancies as well as donate them to other couples. Under proposed NIH guidelines, parents will be asked to consider having the embryos destroyed for federally-funded research instead.

In a 2001 study, 59% of parents who initially planned to discard their embryos after three years later changed their minds, choosing another pregnancy or donation to infertile couples. Had the proposed NIH guidelines been in place then, these embryos might have already been destroyed (New England Journal of Medicine, July 5, 2001).

What's more, we now know that the scientists calling for federal funds have themselves moved on to creating embryos solely to destroy them for stem cells. So much for the "discarded anyway" argument.

Let's support promising medical research that everybody can live with.

Part 4 ~ Stem-cell research: We don't do evil that good may come.

In the case of embryonic stem cell research, a human being is being sacrificed for his or her body parts so that someone else can survive or get healthy. Those of us who hold to the intrinsic value of life believe that destroying human embryos, regardless of the desired good, is unethical and unacceptable in a civilized society.

Further, the creation of human beings solely in order to kill them for their cells is the ultimate reduction of a fellow human being to a mere means, to an instrument of other people's wishes.

The utilitarians argue that the potential medical advances of harvesting stem cells from human embryos for medical research justifies going ahead.

Should we use our taxes for research which requires destroying human embryos? We believe that such unethical research shouldn't be done at all. But if some people are going to do it, it must be at their expense, not the expense of taxpayers ~ and on their conscience.

Let's support promising medical research that everybody can live with.