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August 26, 2000
Column #991


     The Clinton Administration decided this week to allow research to be conducted on human embryos which permits their destruction in order to get stem cells. Why? Sem cells in embryos which have yet to mature into specific muscle, blood or brain tissue - might be used to replace damaged cells to cure such diseases as diabetes, Parkinson's and Alzheimer's.

     The National Institutes of Health released guidelines spelling out ethical and scientific criteria to make grants for federal research using human embryos that can be obtained from ''In Vitro Fertilization'' clinics.

     This step is opposed by such medical groups as ''Do No Harm: The Coalition of Americans for Research Ethics'' for two reasons. First, embryonic stem cell research ''requires the deliberate destruction of human beings in order to obtain the raw materials for research.'' Second, current law prohibits ''research in which a human embryo or embryos are destroyed.''

     The new NIH rules sidestep the law by saying its funds are for research, not to pay for buying embryos, which are to be privately funded. 

     A group of 20 U.S. Senators wrote to the NIH that its guidelines ''do not comply with this law, which we support and which remains in effect....Clearly, the destruction of human embryos is an integral part of the contemplated research.''

     Nobel Laureate Dr. Paul Berg of Stanford University responded in an interview, ''Embryos are stored for long periods of time by In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) clinics. Ultimately they have to be discarded. Why not use them for stem cell research, when the alternative is to destroy them by other means? It is immoral not to proceed, when there is a potential for saving human lives. What greater morality exists than to help those embattled by disease?''

     IVF clinics help women who have been unable to conceive normally by fertilizing a number of her eggs with her husband's sperms in a petri dish. A fertilized embryo is then placed in the woman's womb in hopes of a normal pregnancy. Due to the high likelihood of failure, a number of embryos are produced for artificial insemination, and are frozen for possible future use.

     If she conceives, say, in the third attempt, there may be a dozen unused frozen embryos. These are the controversial targets of the new NIH rules.

     My question is simple. Isn't there a higher potential use for these embryos adoption by other infertile women who long for children? At least a million married women are unable to conceive, and can not afford the IVF process. Shouldn't they have first access to the embryos?

     But what about the important goal of using stem cells to replace diseased cells that cause frightening diseases such as juvenile diabetes?

     Lyn Langbein, a mother of a 5-year-old with the disease, must check the blood sugar of her daughter 8-10 times every day: ''I get up in the middle of the night to check her blood sugar to make sure it is not too low or too high. She is about to enter kindergarten. Will they notice when she turns pale and gets shaky because of low blood sugar?''

     Research has proven that stem cells taken from mice embryos can be injected into the spinal chords of paralyzed mice and spark recovery. Thus, researchers want to use human embryos to see they will have a similar effect on such people as actor Christopher Reeves, who is now a quadriplegic. 

     Fortunately, however, there is an alternative source of stem cells, and a medically more sound source: the patient's own body! Transplants from outside the body risk rejection.

     Dr. Dave Prentice, a professor of genetics, says, ''What NIH seems to be ignoring is the whole field of adult stem cells. Last March they cured diabetes in mice using stem cells from the pancreas from adult mice. Two reports in June used corneal stem cells from blind people to grow a new cornea, a transplant that improved their vision.''

     The Los Angeles Times reported last week ''researchers have succeeded in transforming stem cells from bone marrow into functioning brain cells in rats and humans....It is possible to use a patient's own stem cells to treat a variety of brain disorders, including Parkinson's, Huntington's and Alzheimer's diseases as well as similar spinal chord injuries.'' Their work was funded by NIH and the Christopher Reeves Paralysis Foundation.

     The discovery ''essentially circumvents all the ethical concerns with the use of fetal tissue,'' said a researcher in the Journal of Neuroscience Research.

     Thus, there is no need to destroy human embryos. 

     They can be used instead for adoptions!

Copyright 2000 Michael J. McManus.

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