USA Today reports, “Obama will sign an executive order … lifting limits on human embryonic stem cell research and will direct federal agencies to ‘restore scientific integrity’ to decision-making, White House aides said Sunday.” ABC and NBC reported the story last night, while CBS ran a very brief newscast due to sports coverage. Some will say this is in essence an order to murder embryos. Why would they say this? Where’s the bad news in this story?
ABC World News said that with his announcement, Obama would “fulfill one of his campaign promises,” and that “could lead to better treatments and possibly cures for many diseases,” even if “it will not end a visceral debate.”
ABC added that “embryonic stem cells can develop into any cell in the body. Researchers believe they may produce the next revolution in medicine, including treatments for conditions such as spinal cord injuries, Parkinson’s disease, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s. The cells come from discarded human embryos, which are destroyed in the process.”
NBC Nightly News similarly reported that Obama was making “good on another campaign promise,” and added that “researchers say stem cells may hold the key to curing such diseases as Alzheimer’s, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, but because they’re extracted from embryos, social conservatives say it’s destroying human life.”
The AP reports that Obama’s announcement Monday “will include a broad declaration that science — not political ideology — would guide his administration.”
While the Washington Post reports Melody C. Barnes, “director of Obama’s Domestic Policy Council, told reporters during a telephone briefing” yesterday, “The President believes that it’s particularly important to sign this memorandum so that we can put science and technology back at the heart of pursuing a broad range of national goals.”
The Post adds that “although officials would not go into details, the memorandum will order the Office of Science and Technology Policy to ‘assure a number of effective standards and practices that will help our society feel that we have the highest-quality individuals carrying out scientific jobs and that information is shared with the public,’ said Harold Varmus, who co-chairs Obama’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology.”
Added Varmus, “We view what happened with stem cell research in the last administration as one manifestation of failure to think carefully about how federal support of science and the use of scientific advice occurs.”
According to the Wall Street Journal, one “concern is how much NIH funding will actually be targeted to embryonic-stem-cell research, at least in the near term. For instance, an NIH grant initiative announced last week to jump-start certain key areas of research includes only a handful of areas that relate specifically to human embryonic stem cells.”
Arnold Kriegstein, MD, PhD, who heads stem-cell research at the University of California at San Francisco, said, “At first blush it doesn’t look like there’s going to be an opening of the floodgates.” Dr. Kriegstein “acknowledged that the NIH could quickly reorder its priorities in response to the new policy.”
Irving Weissman, director of Stanford University’s Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine Institute in Palo Alto, Calif., said the new Obama policy will likely enable other NIH stimulus funds to be available to support labs and other infrastructure for embryonic-stem-cell research. That will be important to enable academic researchers to move promising discoveries from the lab into initial clinical trials.
The Politico reports, “Monday’s announcement means” the President “will instead supplant Bush’s executive order with one of his own — a move that will please many of Obama’s supporters who were pushing him to make the change.” AFP says the move is “already delighting scientists and vexing conservatives.”
Why do some call this an order to murder embryos? First some background courtesy of Dr. Robert George at Princeton, a member of the President’s Council on Bioethics:
Stem cells are primitive cells that are capable of forming diverse types of tissue. Because of this remarkable quality, human stem cells hold tremendous promise for the development of therapies to regenerate damaged organs and heal people who are suffering from terrible diseases.
Embryonic stem cells are derived from human embryos. And, to “derive” or “steal” them from the embryo, the embryo must die. And, if your view is the same as mine (i.e., that the embryo is fully human life, a unique person bearing God’s image), then the harvesting of embryonic stem cells that destroys embryos constitutes the murder of that pre-born human being.
As George says, “Their use is controversial because, unfortunately, such stem cells cannot be harvested without destroying the living embryo.”
That’s the bad news. The good news is that many other sources of stem cells are available. For example, stem cells can be harvested from umbilical cord blood as well as from the placenta and a variety of adult sources, including fat, bone marrow, and other adult tissue without harm to the donor.
An enormous amount of research involving adult stem cells is currently going on in laboratories in the United States. This research is NOT ethically controversial and has generated a number of exciting discoveries on the therapeutic front.
You can read more here about the nearly 80 diseases that are being treated and cured today using adult stem cells.
Furthermore, for many therapeutic purposes, adult stem cells are superior to embryonic stem cells because of their comparative stability.
For example, in certain cases, adult stem cells are clearly preferable because of the risk that the use of volatile embryonic stem cells will cause tumors of various types.
LifeNews is reporting today that Bernadine Healy, the former head of the National institutes of Health and the American Red Cross, is cautioning Obama that adult stem cell research successes have “diminished” the prospect that ESCR is the future of regenerative medicine.
“Even for strong backers of embryonic stem cell research, [Obama’s decision] is no longer as self-evident as it was, because there is markedly diminished need for expanding these cell lines for either patient therapy or basic research,” Healy explained.
“In fact, during the first six weeks of Obama’s term, several events reinforced the notion that embryonic stem cells, once thought to hold the cure for Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and diabetes, are obsolete,” she adds.
She points to the news in February that embryonic stem cells injected into a patient in Israel caused disabling if not deadly tumors.
Healy says that the news should cause Obama to instruct the Food and Drug Administration to “take another look” at its decision to approve a trial sponsored by the biotech firm Geron to use embryonic stem cells in a clinical trial involving human patients.
“The FDA should now be compelled to take another look: Are eight to 10 patients enough, or one year of monitoring sufficient, to assess safety?” she asks.
While embryonic stem cells are no further along in providing real help to patients, there are ethical alternatives, that don’t involve the destruction of human life, that are ready to go or quite close.
“Even as the future of embryonic stem cells has dimmed, adult stem cell research has scored major wins evident just in the past few months. These advances involve human stem cells that are not derived from human embryos,” Healy says.
“In fact, adult stem cells, which occur in small quantities in organs throughout the body for natural growth and repair, have become stars despite great skepticism early on. Though this is a more difficult task, scientists have learned to coax them to mature into many cell types, like brain and heart cells, in the laboratory,” she adds.
According to Healy, patients who want the best hope for cures should look to adult stem cells rather than their embryonic counterparts.
“To date, most of the stem cell triumphs that the public hears about involve the infusion of adult stem cells. We’ve just recently seen separate research reports of patients with spinal cord injury and multiple sclerosis benefiting from adult stem cell therapy,” she writes.
“These cells have the advantage of being the patient’s natural own. They do not have the awesome but dangerous quality of eternal life characteristic of embryonic stem cells.”
Healy also says that iPS cells (adult skin cells that have been reprogrammed to become embryonic-like stem cells), which have been the latest buzz, are also outpacing embryonic ones.
“Already these reprogrammed cells have eclipsed the value of those harvested from embryos,” she explains, “because of significantly lower cost, ease of production, and genetic identity with the patient.”
“They also bring unique application to medical and pharmaceutical research, because cells cultivated from patients with certain diseases readily become laboratory models for developing and testing therapy. That iPS cells overcome ethical concerns about creating and sacrificing embryos is an added plus,” she continues.
Healy concludes that Obama and people who support his decision ought to be careful to understand that his move isn’t really the best for patients.
“Obama stands for transparency, and it’s important for him to make sure the public understands his decision, including that all stem cells are not the same or created equally,” she concludes.
My friend, Tony Perkins, of the Family Research Council tells LifeNews.com the Obama decision ignores that science is moving away from embryonic stem cell research and towards alternatives that are both morally and ethically stronger.
“President Obama’s policy change is especially troubling given the significant adult stem cell advances that are being used to treat patients now without harming or destroying human embryos,” he said.
“Despite the significant advances using adult stem cells to treat patients, and new techniques to create stem cells from any patient, President Obama will choose to direct taxpayer’s money to experiments that represent the poorest stem cell science,” he added.
“We should be increasing funding for adult stem cell treatments, which have been used to treat patients for over 70 diseases and conditions, and we should fund the historic achievements in reprogramming ordinary skin cells into embryonic-like stem cells without compromising ethics by destroying life,” Perkins continues.
Perkins called funding adult stem cells and cells made from direct reprogramming “not only to the best science, but also to the surest common ground.”
As Dr. George concludes, “It is illegitimate to deny dignity and a right to life (to the embryo) on the basis of age, size, stage of development, or condition of dependency, just as it is illegitimate to deny dignity and a right to life based on race, sex, ethnicity, or any other morally irrelevant factor.”
He goes on to say, “Because human beings in the embryonic, fetal, and infant stages do not differ in kind from more mature human beings, but differ only in such morally irrelevant factors as age, size, stage of development, and condition of dependency, they are equally entitled to legal protection and may not legitimately be reduced to the status of mere means to benefit others.”
Let me be perfectly clear: I encourage life-honoring stem cell research for the advancement of medical science and the benefit of all patients. And, I advocate the protection of all human life, for all humans, from the instant of conception, are made in the image of God.
Unfortunately, the President will, today, sign the death warrants of untold scores of pre-born humans. To many, that will constitute murder.