Sunday, June 6, 2004

Against: Research not ethical practice

By John Willke
Guest columnist

To understand stem cells, we must first review a normal pregnancy.

After sperm are deposited inside a woman, they swim through the uterus and tubes to the ovary. One sperm enters the ovum and unites its chromosomes with the ovum's. This, then, is an entire human body. It is alive, and proceeds in an ongoing, self-controlled process of growth and development. He or she is sexed as determined by male and female chromosomes. His/her intact body is complete, for nothing will be added from this first cell until the person dies, nothing but nutrition and oxygen.

For the first week of life, this human embryo floats freely down the mother's tube. When 1 week old, he or she plants in the nutrient lining of the womb.

Stem cells, as yet undifferentiated, are very primitive cells, from which all of the organs of the body develop. Two types are being investigated.

Stem cell research could some day lead to cures for Alzheimer's, diabetes, Parkinson's and other diseases. Many scientists say new cell lines must be developed for research. Opponents say destroying harvested embryos to obtain stem cells involves destroying innocent life.

Do you think federal funds should be used to help advance this science? How do you balance social concerns versus personal benefits?

Please send your responses in 100 words or fewer to Stem Cell, Letters to the Editor, 312 Elm St., Cincinnati, OH 45202; e-mail letters@enquirer.com or fax 513-768-8610. Include your neighborhood and a daytime telephone number.

We'll publish a collection of responses on next Sunday's Opinions page.

Adult stem cells are taken from the donor, cultured and returned to the donor. Adult stem cells are plentiful in bone marrow, cord blood and other organs. Recently, there have been dozens of reports of successful use of these in treatment of a variety of pathological conditions, such as diabetes and Parkinsonism. Such use is ethical and promises to be a great boon to mankind.

Embryonic stem cells are taken from another human (an embryo), cultured and used to treat an already born human. These cells are obtained from a 5-day-old living human embryo, who is cut open and destroyed to extract these cells.

Researchers claim that because these cells are more primitive, they will more easily be grown into various organs. But they grow wild into skin, bone, etc., in tumors. Adult stem cells do not grow into such tumors.

Embryonic stem cells are another human's tissue and can be rejected like other transplanted organs. Adult stem cells are cells of the patient's own body and are not rejected.

Embryonic stem cells can carry virus infection from the donor humans, through their original sperm or ovum. Adult stem cells cannot.

So far, unlike adult stem cells, there are no reports of any successful treatment from their use. John Gearhart, professor at the Institute for Cell Engineering at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, has stated that embryonic stem sells were "surprisingly genetically unstable. This may complicate efforts to turn these cells into cures."

Bioethicist Glen McGee said, "The potential that they would explode into a cancerous mass after stem cell transplant might turn out to be the Pandora's box of stem cell research."

Dr. Jeffrey Kahn's research is awe-inspiring. He is a trailblazer. It is difficult not to treasure the life of the girl he saved. But his research began with 20 fertilized ova (20 tiny humans), of which 10 grew into embryos. These were exhaustively tested and two were matches. Only one was planted and a little boy was delivered. So, Kahn sacrificed 19 tiny humans to get one birth.

The use of adult stem cells such as the use of a born infant's umbilical cord stem cells is ethical and beneficial. But the experiment above, and also the obtaining and using embryonic stem cells, is unethical, as it requires the direct killing of innocent humans in the so-far not realized hope of benefiting another.

I don't believe that we can ethically kill one human for the possible benefit of another.


Dr. John C. Willke is widely regarded as the father of the anti-abortion movement. He and his wife, Barbara, co-founded Right to Life in 1973. He is president of International Right to Life and the Life Issues Institute in North College Hill.

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