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The Daily Utah Chronicle

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The Daily Utah Chronicle

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There are better alternatives to embryonic stem cell research

By Tiara Fuller

“Destroying human life in the hopes of saving human life is not ethical, and it is not the only option before us.” — President George W. Bush

For only the third time in seven years, President George W. Bush has used his veto power, axing a bill that would expand federal funding of embryonic stem cell research. It came as no surprise, as his first veto was for a similar bill Congress passed in 2006.

The president was completely justified in not signing this bill.

The passage of this bill would mean that for the first time in history, American taxpayers would be forced to support the deliberate destruction of human embryos.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has promised to override the president’s veto, but hopefully he will meet with the same rejection the Democrats received last time they tried to overturn his veto with a two-thirds vote.

The media regularly publishes public opinion polls showing that over half the country supports funding for embryonic stem cell research. However, a recent poll by International Communications Research was worded more explicitly than just, “Do you support government funding of embryonic stem cell research?”

Its question was as follows:

“Stem cells are the basic cells from which all of a person’s tissues and organs develop. Congress is considering whether to provide federal funding for experiments using stem cells from human embryos. The live embryos would be destroyed in their first week of development to obtain these cells. Do you support or oppose using your federal tax dollars for such experiments?”

The results were 24 percent in support, 70 percent opposed and 6 percent didn’t know or refused to answer. Additionally, only 18 percent supported “all stem cell research” while 67 percent supported “only adult stem cell research.”

Critics of the president and those opposed to embryonic stem cell research say that the embryos harvested would be those not used by couples that have undergone in vitro fertilization. Their argument is, “If an embryo is going to be destroyed anyway, wouldn’t it be more efficient to make practical use of it for medical research?” Or worse, “It’s just a cluster of cells; the potential of its life doesn’t have the same value as an adult or child that is already living.”

The biological fact is that from day one, we were everything we are today — nothing more needed to be added to the single cell we all started out as. It is impossible to draw a line in time and say that before the line this was not a living human, and afterwards it was. The only difference is location and degree of development.

We as a country don’t believe in conducting experiments on terminally ill people just because they are going to die. The world as a whole was appalled by the Nazis’ conducting experiments on Jewish prisoners, even though they were going to die. We don’t agree with harvesting organs and blood from inmates who are deservedly on death row and will die anyway. Why, then, are we opposed to treating some humans this way, but not others?

Additionally, the embryos not used by the original couples going through in vitro fertilization do not need to be destroyed — those embryos can be adopted by millions of other infertile couples.

While scientists have long promised spectacular results from embryonic stem cell research, this has not yet occurred. According to the National Human Genome Research Institute, adult stem cells have already produced therapies, while embryonic stem cells have not.

Supporters of embryonic stem cell research like to say that human embryonic stem cells injected into rats have cured Parkinson’s disease, but what they fail to say is that mice treated for Parkinson’s with embryonic stem cells have died from brain tumors in as many as 20 percent of cases.

Researchers from the University of Rochester Medical Center in New York, European Molecular Biology Laboratory and the Institute of Biomedical Research of the ParcCientfic de Barcelona have verified that because of their pliability, human embryonic stem cells could turn into tumors.

There is probably an immense potential of use for stem cells. But this increasingly is being shown to not be exclusive for embryonic stem cells. Compared with the “possible” breakthroughs in embryonic stem cell research, there are actual breakthroughs involving medical research conducted with adult stem cells, umbilical cord blood and amniotic fluid, none of which involve the destruction of a human embryo.

Reports show that bone marrow stem cells transferred into liver cells or changed into heart cells and cord blood could possibly create neural cells.

In fact, adult stem cells might prove to be superior because they don’t suffer the problem of rejection. Although difficult to extract because they are taken from the patient’s own body, adult stem cells are superior to both umbilical cord and embryonic stem cells. They’re abundant, and there is always an exact DNA match so the body’s immune system never rejects them.

Embryonic stem cells from a donor introduced into a patient could cause transplant rejection, which can only be circumvented with immunosuppressive drugs that must be taken for life — which might not be very long if the patient develops tumors.

Compared with adult cells and embryonic cells, the umbilical cord is by far the richest source of stem cells, and cells can be stored up in advance so they are available when needed. Cord cells can also be used by relatives of the donor, but the more distant the relationship, the more likely it is that the cells will be rejected by the immune system’s antibodies. However, there are a number of common cell types just as there are common blood types, so matching is always possible, especially where there are numerous donors.

By all means we should pursue aggressive research with stem cells. Nevertheless, there are some bridges that we, as an ethical society, should not cross. We should not supply taxpayer funding to deliberately destroy one human life for the potential benefit to another. No end will ever justify those means, however well intentioned the Machiavellian proponents of embryonic stem cell research are.

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