Summary: Sanctity of Life Sunday-- Q & A on stem cells, cloning, euthanasia, and physician-assisted suicide. Link included to formatted text, and PowerPoint Presentation.
God Love ‘em, pt. 2: “Killing Me Softly”
Sanctity of Life Q & A
Q. What is a stem cell?
A. A stem cell is a cell that has the potential to develop into different types of cells. Stem cells are the basic building blocks of the human body. In embryos, these master cells develop into the 200 or so distinct cell types in the body. In adults, stem cells act as nature’s repair kit to replenish existing cells when they wear out or are destroyed.
Q. Where do stem cells come from?
A. All of our bodies contain stem cells. In research, there are primarily two types of stem cells: embryonic and non-embryonic (also called "adult"). Both types are developmentally flexible. Embryonic stem cells come from five-to seven-day human embryos. In order to collect these cells, a living, human embryo must be destroyed.
Adult stem cells come from a variety of sources, including skin cells, bone marrow, placenta, umbilical cord blood and body fat. No human lives are destroyed in harvesting adult stem cells. 1
Q. Why is it wrong to destroy embryos for their stem cells?
A. Biologically, an embryo represents one of the earliest stages of human life. Human development progresses in a continuum, from the single cell to the embryonic stage, then a fetus, newborn, toddler, adolescent and adult. Embryos, whether created through in vitro fertilization, cloning or sexual intercourse, are fully human and deserve protection. The weakest and most vulnerable member of the human family — the embryo — should not be the subject of scientific experimentation. It is never morally or ethically justified to destroy one human in order to possibly save another. Advances in adult stem cell research provide both tangible hope for patients and an ethical avenue for developing the therapies they need.
Q. Where do human embryos used in embryonic stem-cell research come from?
A. Initial embryonic stem-cell research centered on destroying embryos created by in-vitro fertilization (IVF), an assisted reproductive technology. Most clinics offering IVF create additional embryos that are not implanted but frozen for use in later pregnancy attempts. Sometimes parents who have their desired number of children “donate” these additional embryos to science for destructive embryo research.
More recently, scientists have turned to human cloning for embryonic stem-cell research, creating new human life for the sole purpose of destroying it. As researchers perfect human cloning techniques, we can expect to see more young humans cloned and destroyed for this type of scientific inquiry.
Dissecting tiny humans for their cells is unethical and immoral. For instance, convicted criminals on death row would make excellent research subjects and are destined to die anyway. Why not allow scientists to conduct experiments on these men and women before they are executed by the state for their crimes? Of course, we would never allow such experiments on adult humans, but somehow embryonic humans can be dismembered in the laboratory without question.
So, when you hear advocates rationalize destructive embryo research on the basis that some embryos will die anyway, remember the old maxim: the ends do not justify the means.
Adult stem cells have much to offer today. Non-embryonic stem cells are successfully used on a regular basis to treat patients and have been for more than 20 years. As of June 2004, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) reports funding 330 human clinical trials using non-embryonic stem-cell sources. The National Marrow Donor Program has identified more than 70 treatable diseases using these cells in therapy, including breast cancer, leukemia and sickle cell anemia. Researchers also have successfully treated patients with Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, heart damage and spinal cord injuries using non-embryonic stem cell sources. Adult stem cells offer tangible hope to patients today.
Q. Is there evidence that patients are being helped by adult stem cells?
A. That’s because most in the media are so focused on the debate over embryonic stem-cell research that they miss the real news story. Over the last two years, a U.S. Senate committee heard testimony from several patients who are directly benefiting from therapies derived from adult stem cells.
In July 2004, senators listened as Susan Fajt and Laura Dominguez described separate automobile accidents that left each woman in a wheelchair, paralyzed with spinal cord injuries. Both women are regaining muscle control and walking with the aid of braces due to stem-cell transplants from their own nasal cavities. At the same hearing, Dennis Turner told how his Parkinson’s disease symptoms improved, thanks to a stem-cell transplant from his own neuron (brain) stem cells. In June 2003, Keon Penn told committee members about his first-hand experience with the healing power of stem cells: a transplant of umbilical cord stem cells cured his sickle cell anemia. None of these stem cell sources required the loss of human life. Unfortunately, there was a virtual media “blackout” of these stories.