(by Susan Jones, CNSNews.com) – People who believe in the promise of human embryonic stem cells to cure a host of diseases are pleased with the Senate for passing a bill, 63-34, that will expand federal funding for such research.
But those who consider the destruction of human embryos as immoral and unnecessary are disappointed that S. 5, the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act, passed on Thursday evening. Pro-life groups expressed relief that President Bush has promised to veto it.
In a separate vote of 70-28, the Senate passed another bill, S. 30 (the “Hope Offered through Principled and Ethical Stem Cell Research Act).” This legislation promotes taxpayer-funded research using stem cells from already-dead embryos, as well as “adult” stem cells derived from sources such as bone marrow and placentas.
The White House supports S. 30, and it is expected to move next to the House for consideration.
Most of the post-vote reaction centered on S. 5, the bill expanding federal research involving embryonic stem cells.
“It’s a great day for scientists and patients across this country,” said actor Michael J. Fox, who has used his platform as a celebrity with Parkinson’s Disease to advocate for embryonic stem cell research.
“This vote reaffirms the Senate’s commitment to funding embryonic stem cell research that provides hope to patients and families living with diseases and disorders including cancer, diabetes, spinal cord injuries, heart disease, Alzheimer’s and even Parkinson’s,” Fox said.
Likewise, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said the bill “offers real hope to millions of Americans suffering from debilitating diseases and conditions.”
Reid says a “huge majority” of Americans “favor stem cell research” (he left out the word “embryonic”) – “because they see the suffering of their own friends and relatives, they hear the opinions of experts and they put their faith in science.”
Borrowing a phrase made famous by the Rev. Jesse Jackson, Reid urged President Bush to “keep hope alive” by avoiding a veto.
Embryonic stems cells offer false hope, pro-life activists say.
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops said passage of S. 5 would force millions of taxpayers to promote attacks on innocent human life in the name of scientific progress. The USCCB expressed relief that President Bush has promised to veto the bill.
“Many members of Congress remain dazzled by irresponsibly hyped promises of ‘miracle cures’ from the destruction of human embryos, although experts in the field increasingly admit that treatments form this avenue may be decades away,” said Richard Doerflinger, USCCB deputy director.
“This debate continues to divert attention and resources away from the demonstrated therapeutic promises of morally sound research using adult and cord blood stem cells,” he said
“Not only embryonic human beings, but suffering patients and their families are victims of the Senate’s fixation on destructive research,” Doerflinger concluded.
The pro-life Family Research Council expressed relief that S. 5 fell short of the two-thirds majority needed to override the president’s promised veto.
“Now that S. 5 is dead, we should immediately expand on adult stem cell research that is treating people now,” said FRC President Tony Perkins. He pointed to the study published Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association, in which 14 our of 15 juvenile diabetes patients were treated successfully.
“This study done in Brazil showed that, for the first time, adult stem cells were used to treat 14 patients with diabetes. This is precisely the type of stem cell research we should be expanding here in the U.S.” (See related story)
The American Diabetes Association, however, praised the Senate for passing S. 5 — never mentioning the promising Brazilian study involving adult stem cells.
“For five long years, our nation’s leading respected scientists and researchers have been held back by federal stem cell restrictions that have prevented them from making significant advances toward a cure for diabetes and other chronic debilitating diseases,” said Darlene Cain, who chairs the American Diabetes Association Board.
“For the millions of patients with type 1 diabetes that rely on insulin to survive, and for the millions more with type 2 diabetes who would benefit from new treatments, the passage today of the ‘Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act’ brings us one step closer to unlocking the resources that could lead to major discoveries in our fight against this disease,” Cain added.
The American Diabetes Association is urging President Bush not to veto S. 5.
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1. Describe the two stem cell research bills passed by the Senate this week.
2. Which of the two bills does the White House support and which has the President said he will veto?
3. a) Which of the two bills do Michael J. Fox and Sen. Harry Reid support?
b) Why do you think they are not promoting the other bill?
4. What do pro-life groups like USCCB and FRC emphasize about embryonic stem cell research vs. adult stem cell research?
5. Why do you think that the American Diabetes Association is pushing for S.5 and has ignored the successful research done with adult stem cells to treat people with diabetes?
6. Do you support S.5, S.30, both or neither? Explain your answer.
Adult Stem Cells vs. Embryonic Stem Cells:
Stem cells are universal cells that have the ability to develop into specialized types of tissues that can then be used throughout the body to treat diseases or injuries. Stem Cell Research is a topic embroiled in much controversy. Scientists are hopeful that one day stem cells will be used to grow new organs such as kidneys or spinal cords as well as different types of tissues such as nerves, muscles, and blood vessels. The controversy sparked by the use of stem cells and research in this area comes from the fact that…these cells are taken from embryos that are just days old. As a result of this, the embryo, which is a developing human life, is destroyed. Many people feel it is immoral and unethical to destroy embryos for the sake of science. To further the debate, while these cells are easily cultured, replicate quickly, and have a relatively long life, embryonic stem cells have not yet been successfully used to provide any kind of therapy for humans and pose risks such as tumor growth and rejection by the body.
On the other side of the issue is the use of adult stem cells for research. Adult stem cells are available from a variety of sources including blood from the umbilical cord, the placenta, bone marrow, and even human fat. ….they may have some limitations in the type of tissues they are able to form. For many years, adult stem cells have been used to provide a number of different therapies to people with a relatively high rate of success. Recent research has shown that adult stem cells taken from one area of the body are able to regenerate and form tissues of a different kind. In addition to the proven therapies and research, the use of adult stem cells from a patient’s own body decreases the risk of rejection because the cells are not seen as foreign invaders.
All in all, many scientists believe that the use of adult stem cells should be the primary focus of stem cell research based on past success, lower chances of patient rejection, and the idea that adult stem cell research does not spark the moral, ethical, and political debate seen so frequently when the use of embryonic stem cells is considered. (from pbs.org, a Newshour Extra report on the Stem Cell Research Debate by Lisa Prososki)
FOR FURTHER THOUGHT: Read the excerpt below from Princeton University Professor Robert P. George. What does Professor George say is the real reason for the push for the use of embryonic stem cells? What do you think of Professor George’s explanation?
In his article “Fetal Attraction–What the Stem Cell Scientists Really Want,” Professor Robert P. George of Princeton University argues that much is at stake in the stem-cell debate. Professor George explains: Up to now, embryonic stem cell advocates have claimed that they are only interested in stem cells harvested from embryos at the blastocyst (or five-to six-day) stage. They have denied any intention of implanting embryos either in the uterus of a volunteer or in an artificial womb in order to harvest cells, tissues, or organs at more advanced stages of embryonic development or in the fetal stage. Advocates are well aware that most Americans, including those who are prepared to countenance the destruction of very early embryos, are not ready to approve the macabre practice of “fetus farming.” However, based on the literature I have read and the evasive answers given by spokesmen for the biotechnology industry at meetings of the President’s Council on Bioethics, I fear that the long-term goal is indeed to create an industry in harvesting late embryonic and fetal body parts for use in regenerative medicine and organ transplantation.
Why? This would explain why some advocates of embryonic stem cell research are not cheering the news about alternative sources of pluripotent stem cells. If their real goal is fetus farming, then the cells produced by alternative methods will not serve their purposes.
Why would biomedical scientists be interested in fetus farming? Researchers know that stem cells derived from blastocyst-stage embryos are currently of no therapeutic value and may never actually be used in the treatment of diseases. (In a candid admission, South Korean cloning expert Curie Ahn recently said that developing therapies may take “three to five decades.”)
In fact, there is not a single embryonic stem cell therapy even in clinical trials. (By contrast, adult and umbilical cord stem cells are already being used in the treatment of 65 diseases.) All informed commentators know that embryonic stem cells cannot be used in therapies because of their tendency to generate dangerous tumors. However, recent studies show that the problem of tumor formation does not exist in cells taken from cows, mice, and other mammals when embryos have been implanted and extracted after several weeks or months of development (i.e. have been gestated to the late embryonic or fetal stage). This means that the real therapeutic potential lies precisely in the practice of fetus farming. Because the developmental process stabilizes cells (which is why we are not all masses of tumors), it is likely true that stem cells, tissues, and organs harvested from human beings at, say, 16 or 18 weeks or later could be used in the treatment of diseases. (Published Oct. 3, 2005 at weeklystandard.com.