Bioethics – Embryonic vs. Adult Stem Cell Research and Use

Posted By on August 15, 2011

Dennis Brink, Fort Wayne Lutherans for Life

This is a follow up to the article “Stem-cell Presentations Draw Clear Contrast”, published in the May, 2011 issue, which reported on the April 15-16 presentations by Dr. David Prentice.  The purpose is to elaborate on some of the ethical issues of embryonic stem cell research vs. adult stem cell research. 

There has been much emotional public debate beginning over a decade ago, with many people advocating embryonic stem cell research.  A significant amount of the precious and limited funding for stem cell research is currently being diverted from adult stem cell research to embryonic stem cell research. Advocates of the embryonic research are working hard to convince legislatures to adopt measures for the right to clone and to destroy embryos for the purpose of harvesting their stem cells.  Public figures and many in the media have often been effective in using misleading statements to reduce the constraints and increase the funding.  However, to date, embryonic stem cell research has not produced any results in curing or correcting physical conditions, but it has produced tumors in laboratory mice. Scientists say it may be decades before cures will result from embryonic stem cell research, if ever.   

Embryonic stem cells come from blastocysts, the name given to embryonic live humans 5-7 days after conception.  When embryonic stem cells are harvested from blastocysts, the dead embryos are discarded. Blastocysts can be produced directly from fertilization or from somatic cell nuclear transfer (cloning). 

Scientists desire massive numbers of embryos in order to get large quantities of embryonic stem cells, many more than are available through in vitro fertilization, so they want to produce large numbers of blastocysts via cloning. These quantities of clones require massive numbers of donated eggs from women.  In addition to the massive number of embryos killed in this process, some women have died due to the drugs used for the donations.  There’s a documentary about this egg donation titled “Eggsploitation”.

In contrast, adult stem cells, which are extracted from many non-controversial sources such as bone marrow, body fat, peripheral blood, hair follicles, gastrointestinal organs, placenta, umbilical cord blood, and skeletal muscle, have been saving lives and benefitting patients for decades.  In many cases, the adult stem cells have been provided by the patient (autologous adult stem cell donation).  Although not routine and often an expensive last resort in severe circumstances, adult stem cells have been successfully used for decades.  This currently includes successful treatment of 73 diseases and conditions.

What can we do?  Pray. Study relevant scriptures. Study the available information to reach our own conclusions about the ethics. Discuss these ethical issues with our friends, family, and pastors. Contact our lawmakers. Consider becoming an adult stem cell donor. 

Following are some web resources for more information on this topic.

http://www.frc.org/life–bioethics#stem_cells – Family Research Council web site provides a list of links

http://www.eggsploitation.com/ – this is the web site for the Eggsploitation documentary

http://www.stemcellresearchfacts.org/ – benefits of stem cells, focusing on adult stem cells

http://www.marrow.org/ – National Bone Marrow Registry for adult stem cell donation

http://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/results?term=stem+cell+transplant&cond=MDS&show_flds=Y – lists clinical trials for stem cell research

http://lutheransforlifefortwayne.org/ – Fort Wayne Lutherans for Life web site

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