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HUMAN STEM CELL RESEARCH

Media reports, up to 2001-JUN

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bullet1998-NOV: Stem cells isolated: Scientists first announced the isolation of stem cells.
bullet1998-DEC: U.S.: Senate hearing: The U.S. Senate's Appropriations Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies subcommittee (L/HHS) began hearings on 1998-DEC-2. They determined that stem cell research is prohibited by the existing Federal government ban on funding research that destroys embryos.
bullet2000-APR: U.S.: Senate bill: Senators Arlen Specter, (R-PA), and Tom Harkin, (D-IA) introduced the Stem Cell Research Act of 2000 (S. 2015). It would allow federal researchers to extract stem cells from embryos. It would prohibit the sale of embryos at a profit. At the Senate health appropriations subcommittee hearings of APR-26, actor Christopher Reeve asked: "Is it more ethical for a woman to donate unused embryos that will never become human beings, or to let them be tossed away as so much garbage when they could help save thousands of lives?'' Senator Sam Brownback, (R-KS) compared the destruction of embryos with World War II era medical experiments. He commented: "This sounds ... like what happened in World War II. [Nazis reasoned that] these people are going to be killed, why not experiment on them...Federally funded human embryonic stem cell research is illegal, immoral, and unnecessary.1
bullet2000-SUMMER: U.S.: National Institutes of Health: According to Focus on the Family, the NIH "is expected...to proceed with plans to fund  [stem cell]...research...." Their rationale is that as long as private funding is used to actually extract the stem cells, that the government can fund subsequent research which uses those stem cells. 1 Also, there are large quantities of stem cells which were extracted from embryos in the past, and whose descendents continue to propagate in the laboratory. So, research can continue without killing any new embryos.
bullet2000-JUL-3 U.S.: Heart Association backs stem cell research: According to Focus on the Family: Heart Association (AHA) President RoseMarie Robertson said her organization will consider funding specific stem-cell research projects after it finalizes guidelines: "Nearly half of women and men in this country die of cardiovascular disease and stroke," Robertson said. "Women often don't recognize that, in fact, they share that same risk, and the Association believes this type of research has tremendous value in finding new ways to help those people." 2
bullet2000-AUG-17: UK: Human cloning may proceed in Britain: An advisory group in Britain has recommended that the ban be lifted on human "therapeutic cloning." See above. The goal is to create organ transplants which bear the DNA of the recipient patient. "At present embryo research is allowed only for treating infertility and preventing disability in children. Government ministers have already indicated that they support Professor Donaldson’s proposals. Members of Parliament will vote on the issue later this year. At the same time, the law will be strengthened to prevent cloning with the aim of producing a baby." 3,4
bullet2000-AUG-23: U.S.: Stem cell research to proceed: The draft version of the rules governing stem cell research which were released in 1999-DEC have been formally issued. Federal funds will now be available to study stem cells derived from human embryos. However, the actual extraction of stem cells would have to be privately funded. Only surplus frozen embryos left over from infertility treatments would be allowed to be used. Persons donating embryos would be prohibited from receiving financial reward. 

The reaction of the pro-life community was intense:
bulletDouglas Johnson, legislative director of the National Right to Life Committee, wrote: "If a law said that no federal funds may support 'research in which porpoises are destroyed' and a federal agency then told its grantees to arrange for porpoises to be caught and killed for use in federally approved experiments, everyone would recognize this as illegal."

Political reaction was divided strictly along party lines:
bulletSen. Sam Brownback, (R-KS) said, in reference to a 1996 act which prohibits federal supports research in which a human embryo or embryos are destroyed that: "Embryonic stem-cell research is illegal, immoral and unnecessary...[NIH] "is violating both the spirit and letter of the law. If we manage the cure of some diseases and the betterment of some aspects of bodily health by means that involve the killing of the most defenseless and innocent of human beings, we will rightfully be judged harshly by history as having sought some benefits at the expense of our humanity and moral being."
bulletA spokesperson for presidential candidate George W Bush said: "The governor opposes federal funding for stem-cell research that involves destroying a living human embryo."
bulletA spokesperson for presidential candidate Al Gore supports the guidelines. The Democratic platform states: "We should allow stem-cell research to make important new discoveries."
bulletPresident Clinton referred to the benefits of stem cell research as "potentially staggering." He said: "...I think we cannot walk away from the potential to save lives and improve lives, to help people literally to get up and walk, to do all kinds of things we could never have imagined, as long as we meet rigorous ethical standards. And I'm convinced ... that has been done." 5

bullet2000-NOV-1: U.S.: Appeal by M.J. Fox: In an article in the New York Times about the presidential race, Michael J. Fox who suffers from Parkinson's disease, wrote: "The outcome is likely to have a dramatic bearing on my prognosis — and that of millions of Americans whose lives have been touched by Parkinson's, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, spinal cord injury, Huntington's disease, Alzheimer's disease and other devastating illnesses. That's because one question that may be decided on Tuesday is whether stem cell research — which holds the best hope of a cure for such diseases — will be permitted to go forward. Campaign aides to George W. Bush, who has not publicly addressed the issue, stated on several occasions that a Bush administration would overturn current National Institutes of Health guidelines and ban federal funding for stem cell research...Mr. Bush favors a ban on stem cell research, one aide said, 'because of his pro-life views.' " 6
bullet2000-NOV-17: U.S.: Alternative source for stem cells: Researcher Ira Black of the University of Nebraska Medical Center announced at the conference of the Society for Neuroscience in New Orleans that they had had some success in extracting stem cells from adult cadavers. If this discovery pans out, then the main objection to stem cell research by conservative Christians will no longer be significant. Stem cells might be harvested from dead adults instead of living, discarded embryos. Dr. William Berndt of the University of Nebraska Medical Center said: "If the cells that are isolated have the same potential as fetal cells, yeah, I think anybody in the business would quit using fetal tissue and quit worrying about embryonic stem cells and use material isolated from cadavers. But it's a long way from proof at this point."7 Unfortunately, not all stem cells are created equal. Stem cells have been extracted from several sources other than embryos in the past. However, none of those alternative sources produces  cells that have the flexibility of those derived from embryos.
bullet2000-NOV-20: UK: Debate over stem cells: According to NewsRoom:
The House of Commons will debate about stem cells on NOV-23. Following the debate, members of parliament will be able vote freely -- probably in December. They will be released from their obligation to vote along party lines. 8
bullet2000-DEC-18: U.S.: President Bush becomes president-elect: The Electoral College selected George W. Bush to be the next president of the U.S. He will take office in mid-January. If he carries through with his election promises, he will terminate federally funded stem cell research in the U.S. That will satisfy conservative Christians who generally regard the embryos from which stem cells are extracted to be human persons. It will allow other countries to take the lead in biotehnology. 
bullet2000-DEC-19: UK: Stem cell research approved: According to MSNBC: In a free vote, members of parliament voted 366 to 174 to permit stem cell research in their country. Yvette Cooper, the junior health minister, told the House of Commons "In embryonic stem cells may lie the key to healing within the human body...These regulations do not raise any new moral issues beyond those that have already been debated and discussed in the present law. Parliament is not being asked to cross the Rubicon today." Opposition to the bill was based upon the belief that stem cell research will lead to (or is equivalent to) human cloning. One conservative MP stated: "For the first time we are saying to the scientific community that we shall create cloned human beings." A dozen demonstrators outside of the House of Comment carried signs asking the MPs to "Vote No to Cloning." This appears to be a misunderstanding on the part of The Society for the Protection of Unborn Children and other pro-life groups; stem cell extraction and cloning share a few techniques, but are otherwise unrelated:
bulletCloning of humans leads to the creation of an embryo that might develop into a newborn.
bulletStem cell research removes an embryo's stem cells, thereby destroying an embryo. These cells are then used to develop the tissue of a single organ. Stem cells are incapable of inducing a pregnancy and resulting in the birth of a newborn.

It is not clear from the press reports whether those opposing stem cell research who are raising concerns about cloning are:
bulletMerely misinformed about the nature of stem cells, or 
bulletAre exploiting the public's fear of cloning in order to generate opposition to stem cell research.

Under this bill, human cloning will remain illegal. 9

bullet2001-JAN-17: American Medical Association sends letter to president-elect: The AMA sent a letter to President-elect George W. Bush on behalf of "123 patient, research, and academic institutions." They wrote that "The discovery of pluripotent stem cells may be the single most important scientific and medical breakthrough in the past decade or more." They urged a resumption of stem cell research. "For diseases that prove not to be treatable with adult stem cells, impeding human pluripotent stem cell research risks unnecessary delay for patients who may die or endure needless suffering while the effectiveness of adult stem cells is evaluated."
bullet2001-FEB-22: Nobel laureates send letter to president: Advanced Cell Technology Inc., coordinated a letter by 80 Nobel laureates to President George W. Bush urging him to resume federal funding of embryonic stem cell research. Richard Doerflinger, spokesperson for the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, told the Washington Post: "Nobody ever said these Nobel prizes are for ethics."
bullet2001-MAR-8: Pro-life groups sue government: Several pro-life organizations sued the government to block federal funding of stem cell research programs. One of the organizations, Nightlight Christian Adoptions, links infertile couples to fertility clinics so that the wife can become pregnant with a surplus embryo. The lawsuit claims that if the National Institute of Health funds stem cell research, that the number of useable embryos will be reduced, thus financially harming Nightlight and the prospective parents.
bullet2001-APR-10: Stem cells extracted from fat: Researchers at UCLA, the University of Pittsburgh and Duke University isolated stem cells from animal fat that was collected by liposuction. They were able to convert them into bone, cartilage and muscle. Dr. Adam J. Katz of the University of Pittsburgh said: "We don't yet know the limits for stem cells found in fat. So far, we have seen promising results with all of the tissue types we have examined."
bullet2001-APR-27: Mouse stem cells produce insulin: National Institutes of Health announced that they had had coaxed embryonic mouse stem cells into producing insulin in response to glucose. Dr. Doug Melton, chairperson of Harvard University’s Department of Molecular and Cell Biology, stated: "This work is about the most exciting in the diabetes field in the last decade...You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to say, 'Let's try this with human embryonic stem cells and see what happens.' "
bullet2001-APR-27: Further U.S. embryo research funding cancelled: The National Institutes of Health had planned a meeting to review researchers' requests for stem-cell project funding. The Bush administration cancelled the meeting, even as scientists reported new advances in embryo research. Presumably, when existing grants run out, researchers will only be able to obtain funding from non-governmental sources. The administration has ordered a review of the entire funding program; it is scheduled to be completed during 2001-Summer.
bullet2001-JUN-12: Presbyterian Church (USA) discusses research: The Assembly Committee on Health and Social Issues of the Presbyterian Church (USA) passed "A Statement on the Ethical and Moral Implications of Stem Cell and Fetal Tissue Research" to their General Assembly for approval.
According to PCUSA News: "Recognizing both the great progress in stem cell and fetal tissue research and the complexity of the moral issues involved, the proposed ethical guidelines would, if approved, offer moral and ethical guidance on the use of tissue derived from fetuses, subjecting it to appropriate limitations.  Under the guidelines, the decision to have an abortion would be separate from the decision to donate fetal tissue and the sale or commercialization of fetal tissue would be legally prohibited.  Research with stem cells obtained from human embryos would be conducted only when the goals to be accomplished are compelling and unreachable by other means.  As with the use of fetal tissue, sale or commercialization of embryonic tissue would be legally prohibited." 10 The Committee recommendations were accepted by the General Assembly on JUN-15.
bullet2001-JUN-16: Two stem cell bills reach the House:
bulletH.R. 2059, the Stem Cell Research Act of 2001 was introduced by Rep. McDermott (D-WA) on JUN-5. It would "amend the Public Health Service Act to provide for human embryonic stem cell generation and research." It restricts:
bulletBoth research, and the funding of research,
bulletBy the government, and non-governmental labs,
bulletIf done on "on human embryos for the purpose of generating embryonic stem cells..."
bulletIf done directly on stem cells

Research would be restricted to:
bulletOnly those embryos which "will never be implanted in a woman and would otherwise be discarded," or
bulletEmbryos which "are donated with the written informed consent of the progenitors."

It also prohibits the creation of human embryos for research. It  prohibits human cloning. Embryos would have to be provided to the researchers either free or on a non-profit basis.

bulletH.R. 2096, the Responsible Stem Cell Research Act of 2001 has been introduced by Rep. Smith's (R-NJ). It would create a stem cell and umbilical cord blood bank at the National Institutes of Health. It would also fund the project with $30 million for fiscal year 2002. Only stem cells "obtained from human placentas, umbilical cord blood, organs or tissues of a living or deceased human being who has been born, or organs or tissues of unborn human offspring who died of natural causes (such as spontaneous abortion)" could be supplied to the bank. Stem cells derived from therapeutic abortions would not be accepted. Also, stem cells from surplus embryos which would otherwise be destroyed, would be rejected. As it happens, the latter are the most flexible and potentially useful type of cells; cells from other sources are currently of limited usefulness in research.
bullet2001-JUN-16: USA: Southern Baptists oppose cloning and embryo research: At their annual convention, the Southern Baptists passed a resolution which opposes human and embryo research. They urged Congress to "enact a permanent, comprehensive ban on human cloning."
bullet2001-JUN-22: USA: Urinary sphincter muscle being developed: A news item on a NPR program discussed the successful development, from stem cells, of a urinary sphincter muscle for a pig. If further research is not banned, human trials are possible within a few years. This has the potential to help people regain bladder control -- a common problem which limits mobility among the elderly.
bullet2001-JUN-26: USA: Senator Orrin Hatch supports research: Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) wrote a letter to President Bush recommending that federal funds be used for embryonic stem cell research. He wrote, in part: "I find, and hope you will as well, that proceeding with this research is in the best interest of the American public and is consistent with our shared pro-life, pro-family values." Colleen Parro, spokesperson with the Republican National Coalition for Life, said Hatch "has forfeited his status as a pro-life senator by endorsing the killing of embryonic babies so their cells can be used for the benefit of other people." It is unclear whether Hatch endorses the killing of new, surplus embryos or whether he suggests that existing lines of stem cells be cultivated in laboratories and used for research. 11

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Continue with media reports from 2001-JULY

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Related essays on this web site:

Cloning and stem cell research are unrelated lines of research. However, they both start with an ovum and initially use some of the same techniques.

bulletWhen does human personhood begin?
bulletHuman cloning
bulletPre-implantation genetic diagnosis
bulletTherapeutic cloning

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References used in the above essay:

  1. Ben Taylor et al., "Funding killing: New front opened on stem-cell issue," Focus on the Family, at: http://www.family.org/cforum/cialert/A0010662.html 
  2. Laura McGovern, "Heart Association backs stem-cell research," Focus on the Family, at: http://www.family.org/cforum/fnif/news/a0012055.html 
  3. "British experts back cloning," 2000-AUG-16, at: http://www.7am.com/cgi-bin/twires.cgi?
  4. "Stem cell research: Medical progress with responsibility," Chief medical officer's expert advisory group on Therapeutic Cloning," at: http://www.doh.gov.uk/cegc/ 
  5. Cultured neural stem cells reduce symptoms in model of Parkinson's disease," at: http://www.nih.gov/news/pr/july98/ninds-20.htm 
  6. http://www.os.dhhs.gov/progorg/asl/testify/t990126a.html 
  7. Ben Taylor et al., "Funding killing: New front opened on stem-cell issue," Focus on the Family, at: http://www.family.org/cforum/cialert/A0010662.html 
  8. Laura McGovern, "Heart Association backs stem-cell research," Focus on the Family, at: http://www.family.org/cforum/fnif/news/a0012055.html 
  9. "Britain okays embryo cell research: Opposition calls it a step toward human cloning," MSNBC, at: http://www.msnbc.com/news/505792.asp
  10. Nancy Rodman, "Health and Social Issues Committee tackles abortion issues," PCUSA News, 2001-JUN-12
  11. Mark Cowan, "Hatch stem cell letter confuses issue," Focus on the Family, at: http://www.family.org/cforum/fnif/

Copyright © 1998 to 2001 incl., by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2001-NOV-8
Author: B.A. Robinson

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