Do Stem-Cell Research without Killing Embryos

By Bartlett, Roscoe G. | Insight on the News, September 3, 2001 | Go to article overview

Do Stem-Cell Research without Killing Embryos


Bartlett, Roscoe G., Insight on the News


We are wrestling with a profound medical and moral challenge: whether, and under what circumstances, the federal government should use your tax dollars to finance research on stem cells derived from human embryos. President George W. Bush promised that he would announce his answer to this question before Labor Day and did so. Congress will be deliberating this issue for much longer.

The problem is clear: On the one hand, we have thousands of people, who are battling debilitating and deadly diseases, such as diabetes, Parkinson's and Alzheimer's. Others are struggling to overcome disabilities, such as paralysis and blindness, as a result of accidents.

On the other hand, we have thousands of so-called surplus human embryos as a result of in vitro fertilization. The California-based Snowflake Adoption program offers the opportunity for some of these embryos to be implanted. Most however, are frozen -- literally in limbo.

Medical research on embryonic stem cells offers much promise for the prevention and cure of devastating diseases and conditions. Up until now, it has been assumed that research on embryonic stem cells inevitably would cause the destruction of the embryo. I have a 100 percent pro-life voting record in Congress. Trading a theoretical, potential medical advance by purposely destroying another human being is absolutely unacceptable morally. However, as the only member of Congress with a doctorate in physiology, I was able to discover new information that changes the dynamic of this debate. It is feasible today to remove a few stem cells from an embryo without destroying the embryo.

What is a stem cell? There actually are many different kinds of stem cells. They have relatively basic structures and features that permit them to adapt to many more different and complex uses. Research on stem cells derived from adults is producing exciting results. But embryonic stem cells hold the most promise because they can develop into so many kinds of tissues.

When we extract stem cells from adults, such as from bone marrow, we perform complex surgery to minimize risk to the adult donor. Similarly, it is possible to extract just a few stem cells in the early stages of an embryo's development without destroying the embryo. Is it more difficult than killing the embryo? Yes. It is much more complex, and the details are highly technical. However, it is the same principle that we require of adult stem-cell donation. …

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