by Tom Grenchik
March 20, 2008
Perhaps a little "Stem Cell 101" could clear up some common misunderstandings about stem cell research. Stem cells are biological building blocks that can be manipulated to replace many other types of cells, in the hope of repairing the human body and curing disease. Stem cells can be taken from adult tissues and umbilical cord blood without any harm to the donor, and without any moral dilemma. These are loosely called "adult stem cells," although some come from umbilical cord blood following the delivery of a newborn baby. But stem cells can also be immorally harvested from a human embryo, which requires the destruction of the non-consenting "donor." These are called "embryonic stem cells."
Adult stem cells have been used to regenerate areas of damaged organs, restore eyesight, repair bones and treat rare blood disorders. A chief executive of StemCyte, a cord blood cell bank and database, was recently quoted saying: "We are practicing cellular therapy today and people wouldn't be alive if it were not for these therapies" (Chicago Tribune, March 16, 2008). There is certainly great promise and potential here.
Investors love promising research that has minimal public controversy and maximum profit potential. Adult stem cell research delivers both, and recent estimates predict that the market could be worth more than $8 billion within ten years (Chicago Tribune, March 16, 2008). Embryonic stem cell treatments, on the other hand, have chiefly succeeded in growing tumors and killing laboratory rats. And thanks to the persistence of the pro-life community, embryonic stem cell researchers can't hide the fact that their research requires the cannibalistic destruction of human life. Yet the ideologues who promote embryonic stem cell research continue to demand state and federal funding for their vision of a brave new world, where they hope to control life and death and survive indefinitely.
But even politicians are now beginning to see the light. Strong proponents of embryonic stem cell research in the Delaware legislature recently announced that they're giving up their efforts to push forward a bill promoting the research. Their decision followed the news that researchers have developed new, non-destructive methods for producing cells with the properties of embryonic stem cells, by "reprogramming" adult cells, without any moral dilemma. One state senator says he simply came to the conclusion that if research can move forward without destroying embryos, "I don't see any need of pushing an issue that's so controversial" (The News Journal – Wilmington, Delaware, March 17, 2008).
Lawmakers in Maryland are currently looking to cut unsuccessful programs to reduce a budget shortfall, and are debating cutting the state's embryonic stem cell research grant by millions of dollars. Lawmakers are now beginning to grasp what investors figured out some time ago: Morally acceptable adult stem cell research is delivering results without the moral controversy. They are investing in common sense.
Ideally, we'd like to hope that our political leaders will do the right things for the right reasons, such as opposing embryonic stem cell research because it destroys human lives. But if we can at least get them to stop this grave evil because it's not working and supporting it makes them look foolish... we'll take it.
Tom Grenchik is Executive Director of the Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Go to www.usccb.org/prolife to learn more about the bishops' pro-life activities.