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July 21, 2001
Column #1038

NO TO EMBRYONIC STEM CELL RESEARCH

     President Bush is under increasing pressure to permit embryonic stem cell research. He should flatly reject the pressure, and instead support additional federal funding of ADULT stem cell research, which has already been proven miraculously effective in healing many illnesses.

     There is no scientific or moral reason to destroy embryos, that could be implanted in infertile women so that they could give birth.

     Unfortunately, even pro-life advocates' knees are buckling under the pressure. Sen. Orrin Hatch now says, ''A frozen embryo in a refrigerator is a clinic,'' isn't the same as ''a fetus developing in a mother's womb.''

     Why not? Since the first ''test tube baby'' was born 20 years ago, 80,000 women have given birth to babies which were fertilized ''in vitro,'' frozen and later implanted in the mother. The only difference between the frozen embryo and the developing baby in a womb - is location.

     Newsweek published a 13 page cover story showing stem cells ''harvested from human embryos,'' which it said ''may hold the key to curing Alzheimer's diabetes and many other diseases...The voices of biotechnology are Promethean, proactive and impatient with ethical restraints.''

     But are the voices scientific, necessary, legal or ethical? The answer, in each case, is NO.

1. Not scientific: ''Embryonic stem cells have not been used in one single patient,'' says Dr. David Prentice, Professor of Life Sciences at Indiana State Un., who testified to Congress this week. ''When put into animals, they are not very successful. In trying to convert an embryonic stem cell into a heart cell, you get 50 percent conversion. The rest keep growing into a tumor!''

However, he notes that stem cells taken from adults ARE used to cure human disease. Muscle stem cells are repairing hearts after a heart attack. Patients who were blind and could not take a normal transplant, have regrown corneas. The patient's own stem cells from bone marrow are curing them of leukemia and of other forms of cancer - of the brain, ovaries.

2. Not necessary. The claims about embryonic stem cells are based on their potential. ''But that potential has not been demonstrated in a culture dish, let alone animals,'' says Dr. Prentice.

Why aren't they as effective as adult stem cells? The body tends to reject transplants, such as those from frozen embryos of someone else. However, if stem cells are taken from one's own body, it will not reject them.

''Stem cells from one tissue, like bone marrow, can actually be reprogrammed into cells that can repopulate muscle or brain,'' says Dr. Jeffrey Leiden who left Harvard to be chief scientific officer for Abbot Laboratories. ''That was completely unexpected and it really opened up the number of diseases that can be treated by using adult stem cells,'' Newsweek reported.

Thus, embryonic stem cells are unnecessary, while adult stem cells are irreplaceable.

3. Not legal. Congress passed a law prohibiting federal funding of ''research in which a human embryo or embryos are destroyed, discarded or knowingly subjected to risk of injury.'' Yet the Clinton-Gore Administration drafted regulations of that very law which permit the research if someone other than the federally funded researcher kills the embryo to get the stem cells!

Bush should reject that regulation as a subversion of the clear intent of the law.

4. Not ethical. The only way embryonic stem cells can be obtained is by killing the embryo, a human life, although a very small one, no bigger than the period at the end of this sentence. That is unethical, especially since stem cells can be obtained from adults or placentas left over from live births that do no harm to the donor.

The New York Times called the embryos ''just clumps of microscopic cells'' of no intrinsic moral worth. The American people disagree by nearly 3-1. A new poll found the U.S. opposes federal funding of stem cell research that requires destroying the embryo by 70 percent to 24.

     The most powerful evidence of the immorality of killing members of the human family was on Capitol Hill this week - two squirming 11-month-old twins, Luke and Mark Borden. Two years ago, they were frozen embryos, left over after Tim and Donna Zane underwent successful in vitro fertilization. The Zanes gave the embryos up for adoption to John and Lucinda Borden through the Snowflakes Embryo Adoption Program (www.snowflakes.org). The twins were implanted in Lucinda, who is both their adopted mother and birth mother.

     ''Mark and Luke are living rebuttal to the claim embryos are not people,'' she asserted.

     There are 188,000 frozen human embryos currently stored, which could result in 35,000 adopted babies, given average transplantation success.

     Each embryo is a snowflake that is frozen, unique and cannot be recreated.

Copyright 2001 Michael J. McManus.

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