This weekend, for the first time ever, I actually heard a newscast (a Webcast, actually) that included the words, “the destruction of embryos,” in conjunction with President Bush’s stance on Federal funding of stem cell reseach.
On October 21, I had the privilege of attending a lecture by Lisa Boucher Clark, Ph.D., from the University of New Hampshire, entitled “Stem Cells and Cloning: The Perils and the Promise.” The issue was fascinating, and Dr. Clark presented this extremely controversial topic in a factual context, attempting to avoid editorializing or taking a side on the issues, and, in general, succeeding in doing so. (The topic needs a BLOG entry of its own; despite Dr. Clark’s efforts, there were outbursts and arguments that erupted from the audience.) One of the things she discussed is the promise of using stem cells in therapeutic medicine. For example, we are nearing the technological point at which it would be possible to combine somatic cell nuclear transfer (cloning) with stem cell harvesting to produce stem cells that would later be coaxed to differentiate into heart cells—or just about any other tissue—that perfectly match the donor-recipient to replace damaged heart muscle. (This is something of an oversimplification: Although the basic technologies have already been proven, they are not yet very reliable, and to date, SCNT has not been successful with human cells.)
This is the promise of cloning and stem cell research. But it comes at a price. Assuming the SCNT procedure works, the stem cells produced would be removed from an embryo at its blastocyst stage, thus killing the developing embryo. Those stem cells could then be cultured into entire cell lines. Note that current stem cell lines are produced using discarded embryos from in vitro fertilization (IVF) clinics, not from cloning via SCNT.
Our President does not want to give federal money toward stem cell research that destroys embryos. He has allowed for federal funding for stem cell research in cultured stem cell lines that are already in existence, and has done nothing to prohibit or outlaw privately-funded stem cell research. He is not trying to stop the progress of science in a potentially helpful area. He is living up to his beliefs, and his promises, by not putting tax dollars to use in killing the unborn.
The media have done a poor job of presenting the technology and the subject matter as it actually exists, although it is not entirely their fault. Former President Reagan’s son Ron is an outspoken advocate of stem cell research, but he carefully avoids talking about the fact that embryos are destroyed in the current process. More proponents of embryonic stem cell research should come clean on what the full implications of such research are.