Re: stem cell research

Brian T. Greuel (
Tue, 25 May 1999 20:58:34 -0500

Keenan Dungey suggested that ASA members sign a letter or statement
regarding the use of embryonic stem cells. I heartily agree with his
recommendation. The Center for Bioethics and Human Dignity (CBHD), a
Christian organization affiliated with Trinity International University,
has just released an excellent statement on this issue. Below is a copy
of an email message I received today from Daniel McConchie of the CBHD.
It includes a copy of the final version of their Statement on Human Stem
Cell Research and it tells how to sign onto this statement, if you are
interested. I strongly urge interested ASA members to sign onto it.

Brian T. Greuel
Dept. of Biology
John Brown University
2000 W. University Street
Siloam Springs, AR 72761

As many of you are aware, the government's proposed funding of
human embryonic stem cell research has caught the attention of
the news media. CBHD is working in cooperation with other
organizations and individuals on this issue.

The final version of the Statement on Human Stem Cell Research
is here. Below is a copy of the final version. If you agree with it's
content, you can sign onto it by sending an e-mail to
<>. We need your name, organization, and
position/title. (Organizations will be listed for identification
purposes only.)

We are planning a release of this soon so your timely cooperation
is appreciated. Also, please send a copy of this message to
anyone you know who is a professional in an area relating to this
subject--legal, ethical, medical, or scientific--and who is in
agreement with the principles of the statement. We plan to release
this on Capitol Hill with prominent members of different professions
in attendance.

There are plans to continue work on this issue beyond this
statement. Next steps will be decided tomorrow during a
conference call of key participants. We will keep you up to date of
events as they unfold.

In the meantime, please forward this information to concerned

In life,
Daniel McConchie
Operations Director
The Center for Bioethics and Human Dignity
2065 Half Day Road
Bannockburn, IL 60015
Phone: (847) 317.8180
Fax: (847) 317.8153

The Center for Bioethics and Human Dignity
2065 Half Day Road
Bannockburn, IL 60015
Phone: 847.317.8180 Fax: 847.317.8153
E-mail: Web:

A Statement on Human Embryonic Stem Cell Research:
Ethical, Legal, and Scientific Concerns

Recent scientific advances in human stem cell research have
brought into fresh focus the dignity and status of the human
embryo. The decision of the Department of Health and Human
Services (HHS) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to fund
stem cell research which is dependent upon the destruction of
human embryos requires that the legal, ethical, and scientific
issues associated with this research be critically addressed and
articulated. Our careful consideration of these issues leads to the
conclusion that human stem cell research requiring the destruction
of human embryos is objectionable on legal, ethical, and scientific
grounds. Moreover, destruction of human embryonic life is
unnecessary for medical progress, as alternative methods of
obtaining human stem cells and of repairing and regenerating
human tissue exist and continue to be developed.

Human Embryonic Stem Cell Research Violates Existing Law and

In November 1998, two independent teams of U.S. scientists
reported that they had succeeded in isolating and culturing human
stem cells obtained from human embryos and fetuses. Stem cells
are the cells from which all 210 different kinds of tissue in the
human body originate. Because many diseases result from the
death or dysfunction of a single cell type, scientists believe that the
introduction of healthy cells of this type into a patient may restore
lost or compromised function. Now that human embryonic stem
cells can be isolated and multiplied in the laboratory, some
scientists believe that treatments for a variety of diseases--such as
diabetes, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s--may be
within reach. While we in no way dispute the fact that the ability to
treat or heal suffering persons is a great good, we also recognize
that not all methods of achieving a desired good are morally or
legally justifiable. If this were not so, the medically accepted and
legally required practices of informed consent and of seeking to do
no harm to the patient could be ignored whenever some “greater
good” seems achievable.
One of the great hallmarks of American law has been its
solicitous protection of the lives of individuals, especially the
vulnerable. Our nation’s traditional protection of human life and
human rights derives from an affirmation of the essential and unique
dignity of all human beings. Likewise, the international structure of
human rights law--one of the great achievements of the modern
world--is founded on the
conviction that when the dignity of one human being is assaulted, all of

us are threatened. The duty to protect human life is specifically
in the homicide laws of all 50 states. Furthermore, federal law and the

laws of many states specifically protect vulnerable human embryos from
harmful experimentation. Yet in recently publicized experiments, stem
cells have been harvested from human embryos in ways which destroy
the embryos.
Despite an existing congressional ban on federally-funded human
embryo research, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)
determined on January 15, 1999 that the government may fund human
embryonic stem cell research. The stated rationales behind this
are that stem cells are not embryos (which itself may be a debatable
point) and that research using cells obtained by destroying human
embryos can be divorced from the destruction itself. If these flawed
rationales are accepted, federally-funded researchers may soon be able
to experiment on stem cells obtained by destroying embryonic human
beings, so long as the act of destruction does not itself receive
funds. However, the very language of the existing ban prohibits the use

of federal funds to support “research in which a human embryo or
embryos are destroyed, discarded, or knowingly subjected to risk of
injury or death....” (Sec. 511(a)(2)). Obviously, Congress’ intent here
not merely to prohibit the use of federal funds for embryo destruction,
but to prohibit the use of such funds for research dependent in any way
upon such destruction. Therefore, the opinion of HHS that human
embryonic stem cell research may receive federal funding clearly
both the language of and intention behind the existing law. Congress
and the courts should ensure that the law is properly interpreted and
enforced to ban federal funding for research which harms, destroys, or
dependent upon the destruction of human embryos.
It is important to recognize also that research involving human
embryos outside the
womb--such as embryos produced in the laboratory by in vitro
fertilization (IVF) or cloning--has never received federal funding.
Initially, this was because a federal regulation of 1975 prevented
government funding of IVF experiments unless such experiments were
deemed acceptable by an Ethics Advisory Board. Following the failure
of the first advisory board to reach a consensus on the matter, no
Administration chose to appoint a new board. After this regulation was
rescinded by Congress in 1993, a Human Embryo Research Panel
recommended to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) that certain
kinds of harmful nontherapeutic experiments using human embryos
receive federal funding. However, these recommendations were rejected
in part by President Clinton and then rejected in their entirety by
Further, it is instructive to note that the existing law which
researchers to use fetal tissue obtained from elective abortions
that the abortions are performed for reasons which are entirely
to the research objectives. This law thus prohibits HHS from promoting
the destruction of human life in the name of medical progress, yet
medical progress is precisely the motivation and justification offered
the destruction of human life that occurs when stem cells are obtained
from human embryos.
Current law against funding research in which human embryos are
harmed and destroyed reflects well-established national and
ethical norms against misusing any human being for research purposes.
Since 1975, those norms have been applied to unborn children at every
stage of development in the womb, and since 1995 they have been
applied to the human embryo outside the womb as well. The existing
law on human embryonic research is a reflection of universally accepted
principles governing experiments on human subjects--principles reflected

as well in the Nuremberg Code, the World Medical Association’s
Declaration of Helsinki, the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights,

and many other statements. Accordingly, members of the human species
who cannot give informed consent for research should not be the
subjects of an experiment unless they personally may benefit from it or
the experiment carries no significant risk of harming them. Only by
upholding such research principles do we prevent treating people as
things--as mere means to obtaining knowledge or benefits for others.
It may strike some as surprising that legal protection of
human beings can co-exist with the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973
legalization of abortion. However, the Supreme Court has never
prevented the government from protecting prenatal life outside the
abortion context, and public sentiment also seems even more opposed to
government funding of embryo experimentation than to the funding of
abortion. The laws of a number of states--including Louisiana, Maine,
Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and
Utah--specifically protect embryonic human beings outside the womb.
Most of these provisions prohibit experiments on embryos outside the
womb. Although states may not place meaningful restrictions or
prohibitions on abortion under current Supreme Court jurisprudence,
harmful experiments on human embryos are illegal in some states
regardless of how they are funded.
We believe that the above legally acknowledged protections
against assaults on human dignity must be extended to all human beings-
-irrespective of gender, race, religion, health, disability, or age.
Consequently, the human embryo must not be subject to willful
destruction even if the stated motivation is to help others. Therefore,
existing legal grounds alone, research using stem cells derived from the

destruction of early human embryos is proscribed.

Human Embryonic Stem Cell Research Is Unethical

The HHS decision to federally fund research dependent upon the
destruction of human embryos would be profoundly disturbing even if
this research could result in great scientific and medical gain. The
prospect of government-sponsored experiments to manipulate and
destroy human embryos should make us all lie awake at night. That
some individuals would be destroyed in the name of medical science
constitutes a threat to us all. Recent statements such as “stem cell
research is too promising to be slowed, impeded, or stopped” underscore
the sort of utopianism and hubris that could blind us to the truth of
we are doing and the harm we could cause to ourselves and others.
Human embryos are not mere biological tissues or clusters of cells; they

are the tiniest of human beings. Thus, we have a moral responsibility
to deliberately harm them.
An international scientific consensus now recognizes the status
the early human embryo as a human being beginning at fertilization and
the physical continuity of human growth and development from the one-
cell stage forward. In the 1970s and 1980s, some frog and mouse
embryologists referred to the human embryo in its first week or two of
development as a “pre-embryo,” claiming that it deserved less respect
than embryos in later stages of development. However, some
embryology textbooks now openly refer to the term “pre-embryo” as a
scientifically invalid and “inaccurate” term which has been “discarded.”

Both the Human Embryo Research Panel and the National Bioethics
Advisory Commission have also rejected the term, describing the human
embryo from its earliest stages as a living organism (meaning a human
being) and a “developing form of human life.” The claim that an early
human embryo becomes a human being only after 14 days or
implantation in the womb is therefore a scientific myth. Finally, the
historic and well-respected 1995 Ramsey Colloquium statement on
embryo research acknowledges that:
The [embryo] is human; it will not articulate itself into some
other kind of animal. Any being that is human is a human
being. If it is objected that, at five days or fifteen days, the
embryo does not look like a human being, it must be pointed out
that this is precisely what a human being looks like—and what
each of us looked like—at five or fifteen days of development.”
Therefore, the term “pre-embryo,” and all that it implies, is
The last century and a half has been marred by numerous
against vulnerable human beings in the name of progress and medical
benefit. In the 19th century, vulnerable human beings were bought and
sold in the town square as slaves and bred as though they were animals.
In this century, the vulnerable were executed mercilessly and subjected
to demeaning experimentation at Dachau and Auschwitz. At mid-
century, the vulnerable were subjects of our own government’s radiation
experiments without their knowledge or consent. Likewise, vulnerable
African-Americans in Tuskegee, Alabama were victimized as subjects of
a government-sponsored research project to study the effects of
syphilis. Currently, we are witness to the gross abuse of mental
used as subjects in purely experimental research. These experiments
were and are driven by a crass utilitarian ethos which results in the
creation of a “sub-class” of human beings, allowing the rights of the
to be sacrificed for the sake of potential benefit to the many. These
unspeakably cruel and inherently wrong acts against human beings have
resulted in the enactment of laws and policies which require the
protection of human rights and liberties, including the right to be
protected from the tyranny of the quest for scientific progress. The
painful lessons of the past should have taught us that human beings
must not be conscripted for research without their permission--no matter

what the alleged justification--especially when that research means the
forfeiture of their health or lives. Even if an individual’s death is
to be otherwise imminent, we still do not have a license to engage in
lethal experimentation--just as we may not experiment on death row
prisoners or harvest their organs without their consent.
We are aware that a number of Nobel scientists endorse human
embryonic stem cell research on the basis that it may offer a great good

to those who are suffering. While we acknowledge that the desire to
heal people is certainly a laudable goal and understand that many have
invested their lives in realizing this goal, we also recognize that we
simply not free to pursue good ends via unethical means. Of all human
beings, embryos are the most defenseless against abuse. A policy
promoting the use and destruction of human embryos would repeat the
failures of the past. The intentional destruction of some human beings

for the alleged good of other human beings is wrong. Therefore, on
ethical grounds alone, research using stem cells obtained by destroying
human embryos is ethically proscribed.

Human Embryonic Stem Cell Research is Scientifically Questionable

Integral to the decision to use federal funds for research on
embryonic stem cells is the distinction between stem cells and embryos.
HHS has stated that federal funds may be used to support human
embryonic stem cell research because stem cells are not embryos. A
statement issued by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) regarding
this decision asserts that “The congressional prohibition on the use of
[government] funds for...embryo research does not apply to research
utilizing human pluripotent stem cells because such cells are not an
embryo as defined by statute. Moreover, because pluripotent stem cells
do not have the capacity to develop into a human being, they cannot be
considered human embryos consistent with the commonly accepted or
scientific understanding of that term.”
It is important to note that the materials used in an
experiment, as
well as the methods of experimentation, are considered to be part of
scientific research. When a scientific study is published, the first
part of
the article details the methods and materials used to conduct the
research. Ethical and scientific evaluation of an experiment takes into

account both the methods and materials used in the research process.
Therefore, the source of stem cells obtained for research is both a
scientifically and ethically relevant consideration.
Research on human embryonic stem cells is objectionable due to
the fact that such research necessitates the prior destruction of human
embryos; however, the HHS’s claim that stem cells are not, and cannot
develop into, embryos may itself be subject to dispute. Some evidence
suggests that stem cells cultured in the laboratory may have a tendency
to recongregate and form an aggregate of cells capable of beginning to
develop as an embryo. In 1993, Canadian scientists reported that they
successfully produced a live-born mouse from a single mouse stem cell.
While it is true that this stem cell had to be wrapped in placenta-like
in order to implant in a female mouse, it seems that at least some doubt

has been cast on the claim that a stem cell, or cluster of stem cells,
is not
embryonic in nature. If embryonic stem cells do indeed possess the
ability to form or develop as a human embryo, research on such stem
cells could itself involve the creation and/or destruction of human life

and thereby certainly fall under the existing ban on federally-funded
embryo research. It would be irresponsible for the HHS to conduct and
condone human embryonic stem cell research without first discerning the
status of these cells. Their use in any research in which they could be

converted into human embryos should likewise be banned.

Methods of Repairing and Regenerating Human Tissue Exist
Which Do Not Require the Destruction of Human Embryos

While proponents of human embryonic stem cell research lobby
aggressively for government funding of research requiring the
destruction of human embryos, alternative methods for repairing and
regenerating human tissue render such an approach unnecessary for
medical progress.
For instance, a promising source of more mature stem cells for
treatment of disease is hematopoietic (blood cell-producing) stem cells
from bone marrow or even from the placenta or umbilical cord blood in
live births. These cells are already widely used in cancer treatment
in research on treating leukemia and other diseases. Recent experiments

have indicated that their versatility is even greater than once thought.

For example, given the right environment, bone marrow cells can be used
to regenerate muscle tissue, opening up a whole new avenue of potential
therapies for muscular dystrophies. In April 1999, new advances were
announced in isolating mesenchymal cells from bone marrow and
directing them to form fat, cartilage, and bone tissue. Experts in stem
research believe that these cells may allow for tissue replacement in
patients suffering from cancer, osteoporosis, dental disease, or injury.

An enormously promising new source of more mature stem cells is
fetal bone marrow, a source which is many times more effective than
adult bone marrow and umbilical cord blood. It appears that fetal bone
marrow cells do not provoke immune reactions to the same degree as
adult or even newborn infant cells. This is true whether the unborn
is the donor or the recipient--that is, fetal cells can be used to treat

adults, or adult bone marrow cells can be used to treat a child in the
womb without the usual risk of harmful immune reactions. Such cells
would not need to be derived from fetuses who were intentionally
aborted, but could instead be obtained from fetuses who were
spontaneously aborted.
In 1999, unprecedented advances were also made in isolating and
culturing neural stem cells from living human nerve tissue and even from

adult cadavers. Such advances render it quite possible that treatment
neural diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, as well as spinal
cord injuries, will not depend upon destructive embryo research.
Earlier claims that embryonic stem cells are uniquely capable of

“self-renewal” and indefinite growth can also now be seen as premature.
For example, scientists have isolated an enzyme, telomerase, which may
allow human tissues to grow almost indefinitely. Although this enzyme
has been linked to the development of cancer, researchers have been
able to use it in a controlled way to “immortalize” useful tissue
producing cancerous growths or other harmful side effects. Thus,
cultures of non-embryonic stem cells may be induced to grow and
develop almost indefinitely for clinical use.
One of the most exciting new advances in stem cell research is
January 1999 announcement that Canadian and Italian researchers
succeeded in producing new blood cells from neural stem cells taken
from an adult mouse. Until recently, it was believed that adult stem
were capable of producing only a particular type of cell: for example, a

neural stem cell could develop only into cells belonging to the nervous
system. Researchers believed that only embryonic stem cells retained
the capacity to form all kinds of tissue in the human body. However, if

stem cells taken from adult patients can produce cells and tissues
capable of functioning within entirely different systems, new brain
needed to treat a patient with Parkinson’s disease, for example, might
generated from blood stem cells derived from the patient’s bone marrow.
Conversely, neural stem cells might be used to produce needed blood
and bone marrow. Use of a patient’s own stem cells would circumvent
one of the major obstacles posed by the use of embryonic stem cells--
namely, the danger that tissue taken from another individual would be
rejected when transplanted into a patient. Thus, in commenting on this
finding, the British Medical Journal remarked on January 30, 1999 that
use of embryonic stem cells “may soon be eclipsed by the more readily
available and less controversial adult stem cells.” Given that the
function of the adult stem cells was converted without the cells first
having to pass through an embryonic stage, the use of such cells would
not be subject to the ethical and legal objections raised by the use of
human embryonic stem cells. The Director of the NIH has pointed out
that evidence that adult stem cells can take on different functions has
emerged only from studies on mice. However, his own claim that human
embryonic stem cell research can produce treatments for diabetes and
other diseases is also based solely on experimental success in mice.
One approach to tissue regeneration that does not rely on stem
cells at all, but on somatic cell gene therapy, is already in use as an
experimental treatment. A gene that controls production of growth
factors can be injected directly into a patient’s own cells, with the
that new blood vessels will develop. In early trials, this type of
saved the legs of patients who would have otherwise undergone
amputation. It was reported in January 1999 that the technique has
generated new blood vessels in the human heart and improved the
condition of 19 out of 20 patients with blocked cardiac blood vessels.
Such growth factors are now being explored as a means for growing new
organs and tissues of many kinds.
The above recent advances suggest that it is not even necessary
obtain stem cells by destroying human embryos in order to treat disease.

A growing number of researchers believe that adult stem cells may soon
be used to develop treatments for afflictions such as cancer, immune
disorders, orthopedic injuries, congestive heart failure, and
diseases. Such researchers are working to further research on adult,
rather than embryonic, stem cells. In light of these promising new
scientific advances, we urge Congress to provide federal funding for the

development of methods to repair and regenerate human tissue which do
not require the destruction of human embryonic life. However, even if
such methods do not prove to be as valuable in treating disease as are
human embryonic stem cells, use of the latter in the name of medical
progress is still neither legally nor ethically justifiable for the
stated in this document.


We believe that an examination of the legal, ethical, and
issues associated with human embryonic stem cell research leads to the
conclusion that the use of federal funds to support such research is,
should remain, prohibited by law. Therefore, we call on Congress to (1)

interpret and enforce the existing ban against federally-funded human
embryo research as applying to research requiring the destruction of
embryos to obtain stem cells and (2) provide federal funding for the
development of alternative treatments which do not require the
destruction of human embryonic life. If anything is to be gained from
cruel atrocities committed against human beings in the last century and
half, it is the lesson that the utilitarian devaluation of one group of
human beings for the alleged benefit of others is a price we simply
cannot afford to pay.