stem cell research

Keenan Dungey (
Tue, 25 May 1999 10:45:26 -0400

Dear List,

I know the ASA isn't a political action group, but I'm concerned about the
current discussion at NIH about stem cell research. In January, NIH director
Varmus said that stem cell research would be legal, since they are not embryos.
When I read this, I was strongly reminded of "That Hideous Strength," in which
scientists are able to conduct unethical research because they redefine the
terms to make it legal. As Christians and scientists, I think we could help
guide our country through an ethical minefield. As a chemist, I don't
understand the biological issues involved in the proposed stem cell research.
The little I've been able to grasp has been from reports in _Chemical and
Engineering News_ (see April 26, p.20). Evidently two groups are now able to
sustain a line of stem cells (pluripotent human cells isolated from embryos) so
the moral issue of destroying embryos can be avoided. However, I'm uncertain
about the spiritual implications of using stem cells for research. On the other
hand, the research may provide breakthroughs in the medical field (such as being
able to grow needed organs), helping a lot of people. What do some of you

vs. religion. 33 Nobel laureates wrote the President urging him to pursue this
research funding. The panel chosen to advise the president, which included only
two non-scientists (a law professor and a philosophy professor), has recently
decided that research involving embryos is needed, going further than NIH's
proposal. 70 House members criticized NIH's proposal, and the National
Conference of Catholic Bishops has issued a statement saying that experiments
that destroy embryos are immoral.

As I understand it, NIH's guidelines will be open for public comment before
being finalized. I think we should be involved in that comment. Having never
been part of a political discussion before, I haven't a clue where to proceed
beyond becoming aware of the issue. Do some of you have
ideas/plans/organization? For example, perhaps we could write and sign a
letter. Since it may be impossible to get a consensus on the issue in the ASA,
I'm not pushing for an official statement from the ASA. Instead, those of you
who have an opinion, please e-mail me back.

Thanks for considering this issue,