National Catholic Reporter
June 18, 2004
Stem cell dilemma
Do potential benefits of research
outweigh ethical risks?
By PATRICK DOBSON
Kansas City, Mo.
Missouri State Sen. Anita Yeckel was surprised and pleased to get a
call from her pastor, St. Louis Archbishop Raymond Leo Burke, the
evening of Jan. 12.
The strongly pro-life Catholic and Republican was in her office in
the state Capitol in Jefferson City preparing to attend a hearing on a
bill prohibiting human cloning before the Judiciary and Civil and
Criminal Jurisprudence Committee. The bill’s author was Sen. Matt Bartle
of Lee’s Summit, Mo., a suburb of Kansas City.
The purpose of Burke’s call, she thought, was courtesy.
“I couldn’t figure out why he was calling,” she said. “I thought it
was nice, though. He was very charming. But then, I was saying what he
wanted to hear. I thought I was going to vote for the bill.”
Bartle’s bill, also known as the “anti-cloning” bill, would make it a
felony offense to for a person to participate in or use state funds or
facilities in the cloning of a human being. According to the definitions
included in the bill, “ ‘Clone a human being’ or ‘cloning a human
being,’ ” shall mean “the creation of a human being by any means other
than by the fertilization of a naturally intact oocyte of a human female
by a naturally intact sperm of a human male.”
As such, in vitro fertilization, a useful method of producing embryos
(joining egg and sperm) for implantation into women who have been unable
or have had difficulty getting pregnant, would not be prohibited under
On its face, the bill would outlaw an act morally distasteful to many
Americans. But it would also criminalize a biomedical research procedure
called somatic cell nuclear transfer that some geneticists and doctors
believe holds promise as a way to produce stem cells for tissue repair
and therapy. It is a much easier method than using today’s existing stem
cell lines or harvesting adult stem cells, which can be a painful and
invasive procedure. To many, the procedure skirts ethical and moral
difficulties in creating new life from fertilizing an egg to harvest
Burke has decided to take a stand in Missouri that could have serious
national implications. If successful, his campaign would essentially
shut down any human genetic bioscience research efforts in Missouri. If
his view prevails, one of the most ambitious research efforts in the
Midwest may be forced to move elsewhere, and university work on human
genetics could be in jeopardy. The debate in Missouri contains the
elements of the battle over certain areas of bioscience that is going on
in varying degrees nationally. And the debate is not confined to cloning
of cells, but also includes concerns over health care, how resources are
used, who has access to the latest developments and how the health care
system is going to pay for making new applications broadly available.
Somatic cell nuclear transfer involves removing the nucleus of an egg
cell. That nucleus is then replaced with the nucleus from a donor’s
skin, liver, brain or any other cell in the body.
With the somatic, or adult cell nucleus, the egg begins to develop
into a blastocyst, essentially a sphere containing a cluster of
unspecialized stem cells. Scientists can then extract these stem cells
from the growing blastocyst and grow them in vitro, in other words, in
an artificial environment. Since they contain the donor’s own DNA, stem
cells generated in somatic cell nuclear transfer theoretically can be
used to repair damaged or defective organ tissue in the donor’s body
without rejection or immune reactions related to organ transplant or
injection from existing stem cell lines.
Yeckel was the swing vote on the bill on the committee of nine
senators. She had been the subject of heavy lobbying by the Missouri
Catholic Conference and Missouri Right to Life in the weeks previous to
And while the Missouri Catholic Conference is the lobbying agency for
the bishops, the archbishop said he is acting on his conviction that, as
a teacher and leader, it is his duty to make sure Catholic legislators
within his diocese know the church’s position on Bartle’s legislation.
Since Yeckel was a member of his flock, his obligation was to inform her
of the church’s position on human cloning, he said.
His call to Yeckel marked Burke’s first personal foray into Missouri
politics and signaled his preference for taking an activist leadership
Burke joins an increasingly powerful pro-life lobby in Missouri.
“Since he has come to Missouri, Archbishop Burke has weighed in
decisively and forcefully on Catholic moral and social justice
teachings,” said Larry Weber, a permanent deacon and head lobbyist for
the Missouri Catholic Conference. “I look at him willing to be involved.
He will be frequently weighing in on issues in Jefferson City and in
Burke’s installment in the heavily Catholic St. Louis area may give
him a strong platform as a church leader. St. Louis has one of the
largest Catholic school systems in the nation, a large and faithful
Catholic community and a Catholic tradition dating to its establishment
as a French colonial outpost. Anything he does and says will be watched
and heard around the state and the nation.
In such a position, Burke adds additional heft to the pro-life agenda
of the Missouri Catholic Conference, which already had the ear of
conservative legislators, Catholic and Protestant. He is admired by many
in the Missouri General Assembly, though many legislators of all faiths
often differ from the church’s stance on the death penalty, the conflict
in Iraq and social issues.
Rep. Mike Sager, a Democrat, has voted solidly pro-choice since
entering the Missouri House in 2002, and stands by his convictions so
firmly that he said, “I began denying myself Communion in 1988.” Now an
Episcopalian, Sager said he understands the pressures on Catholic
Missouri state legislators. Moreover, pressures on legislators to vote
for pro-life issues across the board are enormous.
“The Missouri Legislature is a place run on fear,” he said. “Whether
you’re pro-life or pro-choice, it doesn’t matter. You vote pro-life
because you’re afraid of what’s going to happen to you if you don’t.
“You talk to people who go to the Missouri General Assembly on the
pro-choice side. They get there, and suddenly you find them lining up on
the pro-life side, merely because they know this is a political football
they can’t handle. And when it comes to therapeutic cloning or somatic
cell nuclear transfer, the rhetoric is just as steamed and difficult to
surmount as with abortion.”
With Burke’s arrival, he said, “the real challenges begin for
Catholic legislators, and for all of us, really.”
Somatic cell nuclear transfer
[Researchers at Washington University Medical School]
in St. Louis have already been able to produce promising results in
spinal cord repair in animals such as mice and cats, using stem cells
generated with somatic cell nuclear transfer.
Normally, the DNA in the replacement nucleus is programmed to produce
only the cell it came from -- skin cell nuclei, for example, produce and
manage skin cells only. But the cytoplasm in an egg cell can “turn on”
the DNA strand in the replacement nucleus in full. The DNA in any cell
in the human body has the genetic code to produce any other cell in the
body, DNA from a thumbnail cell, for instance, can, under correct
circumstances, be made to produce liver cells, and vice versa.
More important to researchers today, these DNA strands also include
the information necessary for cells that aren’t required past the very
beginning of life, such as those that set the stage for gestation and
the amorphous stem cells that can ultimately specialize into organs,
limbs and tissues within the first weeks and months of embryonic
These unspecialized stem cells can be coaxed into becoming the
tissues doctors mean to treat. But just as important, researchers see
stem cells as the key to discovering how to “turn on” all or part of the
DNA strand at will to build, repair and replace selected tissues, organs
and cells -- all from, by and for the person from whom the genetic
Proponents of somatic cell nuclear transfer, such as Stowers
president and CEO William Neaves, say the procedure is a way to produce
stem cells that can take the form of any other cell in the body without
creating new human life or destroying a human embryo. Since the cells
produced in the procedure have the same genetic imprint of the donor,
rejection problems with implantation of donor materials do not exist.
“You are working entirely with the genes of a person conceived years
earlier,” Neaves said. “You are not creating new life. You are not
causing conception to occur. You are just reawakening the developmental
potential that already resides in that individual’s [donor’s] genes.”
Neaves holds a PhD in anatomy from Harvard.
Opponents, such as Bartle, author of the bill prohibiting human
cloning, and Burke, however, argue that there is no distinction between
the fertilized embryo and the organism with a full human genome derived
from somatic cell nuclear transfer.
Yeckel, who considers herself a good and faithful Catholic, said when
she spoke on the phone with the archbishop, she was in complete
agreement with him. She is solidly pro-life, believes staunchly in
outlawing abortion, and would vote against the death penalty.
Yeckel’s chat with the archbishop had buoyed her. Walking down the
echoing marble halls of the Missouri Capitol to the hearing that
evening, she had no qualms about what she was going to do. She believed
she was going to vote to move Bartle’s anti-cloning bill out of
committee. It was, after all, cloning, something morally reprehensible
to begin with. Then it would be killing a human being, something she has
stood against her whole career in the senate, which she began in 1996.
“I got into the hearing, and thought I was going to vote for the
bill,” she said. But once she read the bill, she said, “I couldn’t. I
just saw that somatic cell nuclear transfer could have ethical
implications that were different. That this was different than abortion.
Matt’s bill would have done away with all the research that, as I saw
it, could have allowed a mother to help her diabetic child, or a family
member to help another. I just wasn’t going to vote for Matt’s bill, as
much as I think he’s got good intentions.”
Another legislator, however, had “put forth an amendment that would
have permitted somatic cell nuclear transfer, and human cloning would
have been strictly forbidden,” Yeckel said. “With the amendment, I could
have voted for Matt’s bill. That made sense, to outlaw cloning but allow
this research that could yield such benefits.
“I wanted to go even farther and say that the product of the [somatic
cell nuclear] transfer could never be implanted in a human uterus and
the therapy could never be done for a profit, merely because the cost of
the procedure itself would keep it out of the hands of a vast number of
people it would help.”
The committee, however, voted down the amendment and Yeckel voted
against moving Bartle’s bill out of committee. And there the bill
remained with votes tied at four for the bill and four against. Yeckel’s
vote put her at odds with other pro-lifers in the Senate.
“Without [Harold] Caskey’s amendment, the bill didn’t make sense to
me,” she said. “You would outlaw something that could potentially help a
diabetic child. With something that would be the product of a child and
its mother, and something that the mother and child own? This is not the
same as procreation.”
Before a second hearing Feb. 24 to move the bill out of committee and
to the Senate floor, Bartle approached Yeckel weekly to assess her vote.
“I could tell he was counting votes,” she said. “But the more I read
about the procedure, the more I studied the subject, I found I was
moving farther away from him.”
Yeckel, who was educated at Jesuit St. Louis University, said, “I was
using what the Jesuits taught me. I was using that ability to reason, to
look at things from a couple of perspectives. When I tried to talk to
Matt about it, he would just say the embryo was human life and clam up.
I tried to talk to the Catholics, and they would do the same.”
As the evening approached for the hearing, lobbyists from the
Catholic conference and Missouri Right to Life visited her office, often
dropping off literature and offering prayers and solace.
“They knew I was a good Catholic,” she said. “And they were
courteous. But they never once wanted to really discuss the issue. At
some point, they always say that it’s killing a baby and that ends it.
Still, they will accept other killings -- the death penalty, the war.”
On Feb. 24, Bartle approached Yeckel at the hearing just before the
vote on his anti-cloning bill. “He said if I wanted to take a walk, it
would be easier on me,” she said. “It would be easier on everyone. But I
told him I had made a stand and was willing to suffer for it. I voted
against moving it out of committee, again.”
There the bill died when the legislative session ended in May. Bartle
says he couldn’t get his bill out of committee because Cape Girardeau
Republican Sen. Peter Kinder, a pro-life voter, wouldn’t come to the
hearings on his bill.
“And Rep. Yeckel, a member of church, won’t vote for it. I tell you,
it’s in these things you begin finding out what people’s true colors
Bartle expects to come out of the box with all his energies in the
legislative session that begins in the fall. “We have a pro-life
majority here. We’re going to get it.”
Neaves of the Stowers Institute said the dream of regenerative
medicine, for example, is to reawaken those genes in a fibroblast in a
piece of heart scar tissue so that it might regenerate heart muscle, or
after a stroke, to regenerate lost neurons in the brain.
“Or if we can only reawaken gene expression in cells that are still
resonant in the brain of a person who has developed Parkinson’s or
Alzheimer’s disease to cause cells that are somewhat idle in the brain
to replace those that have been lost,” he said.
Scientists today know of only one way to reawaken that developmental
potential -- placing the nucleus of an ordinary cell in the body, say
from the liver, skin, fibroblast, inside the cytoplasm of an egg from
which its own nucleus has been removed or pushed out. The special
environment inside the cytoplasm of the egg has many transcription
factors, switches that turn genes on again.
“The special constellation of transcription factors resonant inside
the cytoplasm of the egg,” Neaves said, “is able to reawaken the
developmental potential of an ordinary body cell. So it can retrace its
own developmental steps and be in a position to redifferentiate again
into any specialized cell or tissue in the body.”
Somatic cell nuclear transfer is important to scientists not merely
for the stem cells it produces that can be given back to the donor, but
for the knowledge it may bring of wakening gene expression in ordinary
cells in the body. Once these transcription factors are understood, the
process of somatic cell nuclear transfer may, itself, become obsolete.
Burke, however, said the church’s position is clear. Whether produced
sexually by union of egg and sperm or asexually in somatic cell nuclear
transfer, the cluster of cells that arises is human.
“I think it is a manner of speaking,” he said. “There’s creation of a
human life. However they want to describe it, what we have is a human
life. In fact, as I understand it, there is the creation of a number [of
somatic cells] at the same time in order to find the right one or the
best one for the procedure. So I just don’t agree with that.
“The question of the beginning of human life as a priority and all
the moral questions pertaining to human life, if you’re talking about
the gift of life itself, at its beginning it calls for protection and
care as that life grows and develops.”
Bartle concedes that pursuit of somatic cell nuclear transfer
research may lead to groundbreaking therapies, “but taking one life to
save another is inappropriate,” he said. “When we begin making those
kinds of judgments, we’ve gone well beyond our authority.
“It’s not morally right or just to experiment on jail populations or
death row inmates. Why then let scientists kill human embryos to advance
science? My problem, and that of pro-lifers and the pro-life community,
is that we believe life begins at conception. If you bypass that concept
and create a human embryo, indistinguishable from the conceived one,
you’re still there.”
St. Louis Republican Rep. Jim Lembke had introduced a bill identical
to Bartle’s in the Missouri House, HB 1151, which also died in committee
this year. He doubts claims that human suffering will be relieved
through somatic cell nuclear transfer research, though the research is
only now beginning.
“I think it’s a way to sell the item,” he said. “Even if it were the
fact, the ends don’t justify the means. Just the idea that through
research into the process we would be harvesting stem cells from human
embryos for this purpose ends the life of this human for better quality
for another -- it goes against all underpinnings of moral society.”
Thomas Shannon, professor of religion and social ethics at Worchester
Polytechnic Institute, said the church and many pro-life advocates
assume that fertilization is a specific, identifiable moment. But
scientists, such as Neaves and his colleagues, may have more room to
“The problem [with the church view] is that embryology is a process,”
said Shannon. “Fertilization itself is a process. It takes about 24
hours for the sperm to penetrate the ovum, and then for the chromosomes
to line up, then for the union and formation of the DNA to occur, and
then to have a beginning of cell division.
“One thing important to me is that in the blastocyst at the
beginning, the cells have capacity to become other organisms. The cells
have a unity, but it is not a unity of individuality. They are going in
a direction, but they are fluid. It is at this point that twinning can
occur, and a number of other things that are not individual. It takes a
week to two weeks before the cells are committed to body parts they will
“This is a critical time. For the first two weeks, the organism is
not an individual, and there can’t be a person without an individual.”
On the other side, Shannon said, the blastocyst, essentially a small
ball filled with stem cells, is a living organism with the human genome
worthy of respect. It is not due the same respect as that accorded to a
person, but respect. “If you end its life, then it’s killing, not
murder. And if it’s not murder, then there are offsetting reasons to
justify killing. In this case, embryonic stem cell research for the
benefits it may bring to living persons.”
Burke said, however, that the beginning of human life means the
ensoulment of the individual. “My approach in that regard is that when
you have a human life you have the ensoulment,” he said. “In other
words, I think to separate the beginning of human life from the
ensoulment is false.”
Neaves, who considers himself to be a strong Christian, said, “There
is a firm scriptural basis for doing everything in our power to relieve
“What I’ve been talking about so far has been taking that cluster of
stem cells and growing them in a petri dish and introducing them back
into the body to regenerate damaged heart tissue, to regenerate damaged
lost insulin-secreting cells, to regenerate lost neurons in the brain.
If, however, that small cluster of stem cells is taken and implanted
into a uterus, we know from the example of Dolly the sheep that, in at
least some mammals -- certainly in sheep and cattle, I believe it’s been
done successfully in cats and mice. …
“There’s debate whether it would be successful in humans. None of us
here at the institute have any desire to go along that pathway at all.
Actually, we would be quite happy if the implantation of that small
cluster of stem cells into a uterus were outlawed. But the possibility
that you could take that cluster of stem cells and place it in a uterus
and it would grow up to be a clone of the individual who donated the
cell is a basis of objecting to somatic cell nuclear transfer.”
Because the technology can be misused, he said, should not preclude
good faith research with the technology strictly for the purpose of
regenerative therapy, “so that the stem cells become the basis of
regenerating damaged tissues in a patient’s body.”
Burke’s effect on the legislature
Stem cell research and somatic cell nuclear transfer is a ready-made
issue for Burke, who was a politically known figure before he came to
He had made a name for himself as an outspoken religious leader when,
as the bishop of the La Crosse, Wis., diocese, he took public stances
against abortion. On Nov. 23, 2003, Burke issued a pastoral
“notification” on the La Crosse diocese Web site stating that in
accordance with canon law, “Catholic legislators, who are members of the
faithful of the diocese of La Crosse and who continue to support
procured abortion or euthanasia may not present themselves to receive
Holy Communion. They are not to be admitted to Holy Communion, should
they present themselves, until such time as they publicly renounce their
support of these most unjust practices.”
He arrived in St. Louis in early January from La Crosse amid a storm
of controversy. Shortly before the Missouri Democratic primary in
January, after he assumed his new job, he said publicly he would deny
Sen. John Kerry the Eucharist.
Critics said he was violating the separation of church and state.
Pastoral letters, notifications and public statements have deep
influence on the political life of the community. Some recalled fears of
American political leaders answering to the Vatican, which preceded John
F. Kennedy’s election to the White House.
Burke’s supporters, however, welcome his strong voice. Robert P.
George and Gerard V. Bradley on the Web site for the National Review
called the charge of violating church and state separation “silly.”
“No one is compelled by law to accept his authority,” they wrote in a
Jan. 29 editorial headlined “Leading his flock.” “But Bishop Burke has
every right to exercise his spiritual authority over anyone who chooses
to accept it. There is a name for such people: They are called
In an interview in April with NCR, Burke said he has studied
the constitutional matter closely. His understanding is that “separation
of church and state is that the Constitution and Bill of Rights
prohibits the establishment of a religion. In other words, the making of
a religion of the state -- that this would be a Catholic state or a
Lutheran state, or whatever. But it certainly does not prohibit its
leaders from making their contribution to civic discourse in the
interest of promoting the common good. In fact, to the contrary, our
country would be harmed very much if religious and moral leaders did not
speak up and make their contribution to the discussion of whatever
issues are before the nation.
“I consider this a very serious duty,” said Burke, speaking in his
office at the chancery of the St. Louis archdiocese, located next to the
Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis near Forest Park. “I do not consider
this interference. I do not tell anyone you have to vote this way or
that way. I’m simply saying to a Catholic legislator, if you vote for
legislation that provides for a procured abortion, you are violating
your conscience in a very serious matter.”
State Sen. Jon Dolan, a Catholic and a Republican, said he welcomes
Burke and the influence he will bring to bear on pro-life issues in the
Missouri General Assembly. “I’m happy we have him on the pro-life side,”
he said. “He’s outspoken and he’s made me proud to be a Catholic again.”
Dolan is emblematic of the separation between the church’s stand on
abortion and cloning issues and other social issues on which it has
taken strong stances.
Dolan was in the Army National Guard and was called to duty in
Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in 2003 to serve as a public affairs officer. He
was granted leave in September, during which time he came back to the
Missouri Senate to cast the deciding vote on controversial legislation
that would allow Missourians to carry concealed forearms with special
permits. Missouri voters had turned down the same legislation in a
referendum a few years before. The church in Missouri lobbied against
both the passage of the referendum and the bill Dolan came back from
Cuba to vote on.
Dolan was chastised by the military, and after a brief investigation,
forbidden from undertaking any political activity while on active duty.
His vote was allowed to stand.
When it comes to the gun control, the death penalty and other social
issues, many Missouri Republicans and the Catholic church part ways.
“I like the way Archbishop Burke plays ball,” said Bartle. “I hear
about his work, and obviously he’s supportive of my work. From what I
understand he’s doing, the Catholic church is willing to put its actions
where its mouth is, and not just be pro-life but actually engage, let
people know. We part ways on the death penalty and social issues. I
think government does great harm by creating dependence. When it comes
to the death penalty, I believe that if you take someone’s life
intentionally, the state has right to execute you. Period.”
Life’s beginning, Burke said, is a fundamental and prior moral
consideration to all others regarding the protection of life. With
regard to war, he said, “the judgment with regard to the justice of a
particular action or not lies with the civic officials. In that sense,
the church respects that decision, even though she may criticize it, may
call into question.
“So the approach is different because they are two different
situations. Both involving human life and the protection of human life,
but the situations being different and, therefore, the way to address
them has to be different.”
With regard to the death penalty, Burke said, the Catholic catechism
and the teachings of the pope make clear that the church stands against
the death penalty except in instances of self-defense. “We have forms of
incarceration and so forth to deal more humanely with the punishment of
someone who has committed a horrible crime,” he said.
Burke said he will not be shy, however, about pursuing the church’s
antiabortion/anti-cloning stance. He will call legislators, much as he
did Yeckel, when appropriate.
“I have the obligation as the bishop to call Catholic legislators to
respect the moral law as taught in the church. It is my responsibility
for their sake and for the sake of others to remind them of the church’s
teaching. So I will be in communication with them. Wherever I think it
is a question of protecting the common good, fostering the common good,
I will speak out.”
Burke doesn’t like to be called an activist. On the other hand, he
sees himself as a teacher of the faith and his job is to care for souls,
“including the souls of politicians, Catholic politicians, and of the
others who are impacted by the actions of Catholic politicians,” he
“The other thing is, I mean, we live in a world which is very
secularized,” he said. “There isn’t any more a kind of pervasive culture
very much influenced by Judeo-Christian teaching. And, therefore, it is
even more incumbent upon a bishop to teach clearly.”
When asked if he plans to issue public notifications related to
political issues, whether on the death penalty or social issues, he said
that because he is so new to his position in St. Louis, to say would be
premature. He insists though that anyone at the head of the St. Louis
archdiocese assumes a moral leadership position.
“If a Catholic legislator persists in a public position contrary to
the church’s position respecting human life, that person should of his
own not come to holy Communion,” he said. “But because these acts are
public, I, as archbishop, or others, would be obligated if that person
did come up to say, you know, ‘You may not receive the holy Eucharist.’
Larry Weber feels he has a great ally in Burke. “I feel that if there
was an issue that was important to the church that was coming to or in
the legislature, I could call on him. The time may come when he will
make those calls for me.”
As for being available to Weber and the Missouri Catholic Conference,
Burke said he will not be a puppet, but that when it comes to important
issues, he would study the issues Weber brings to his attention and make
the appropriate calls, “if I thought it was the right thing to do.”
Conscience vs. rightly formed conscience
In matters of faith, Anita Yeckel considers herself strong. “I am a
good Catholic,” she said. “I have never disobeyed my church. But I do
believe the church should not have taken this stand as comprehensively
as quickly as it has in the context of this research. I think some
people sat at a table and made a decision.
“In years to come, I may find out that a bunch of gray heads spent
years and years debating these things, but right now, I believe I’m
doing the right thing.”
Neaves thinks that if “more people could understand clearly that this
is not fertilization, it’s not conception, it’s not the creation of a
new life, that a lot of the hesitancy about embracing the technology
Even when it comes to stem cells derived from fertilized embryos,
such as those of the 30 or so stem cell lines approved by the Bush
administration for research in 2001 obtained from destroyed or aborted
embryos, Americans seem to favor stem cell research.
The Juvenile Diabetes Research foundation found in a survey of 600
self-identified conservative voters conducted in late 2003 that while 36
percent of those surveyed said they strongly opposed such research, 56
percent said they somewhat or strongly supported it. Of the same group
of people, only 23 percent wanted to ban stem cell research altogether,
22 percent agreed with Bush administration limitations, and 44 percent
believed the policy should be broadened.
Problems that researchers now have with the existing cells lines are
several. The first and foremost is that while these stem cells are just
as amorphous as those produced in somatic cell nuclear transfer,
problems arise with immune reaction and rejection similar to that
experienced in organ transplant surgery.
“That is another reason we are so excited about this,” said Neaves.
“You don’t have to worry about that individual patient mounting an
immune reaction and rejecting the reintroduced cells. It’s his or her
own cells being placed back into their bodies. Not recognized as being
foreign at all.”
Another is that the cells themselves tend to form cancers or tumors
after a period of multiplication in the petri dish environments in which
they are reproduced for research.
Adult stem cell research holds promise, but adult stem cells aren’t
nearly as malleable as those produced either in human embryos or by
somatic cell nuclear transfer. For instance, stem cells harvested from
bone marrow are good for reproducing red and white blood cells, and
platelets, but aren’t good for replacing neurons, muscle or organ
The other substitute for somatic cell nuclear transfer is placental
or umbilical cord stem cells from newborns. But these, again, tend to
have the same kinds of rejection and immune reaction problems as the
existing stem cell lines.
Neaves said that somatic cell nuclear transfer research “holds so
much promise, holds so much potential for the relief of human suffering
that we believe it’s extremely important to preserve an environment in
Missouri where this kind of work can be done.”
“In this instance, I think it’s justified for a person to use his or
her own cells,” said Anita Yeckel. “I would bring up that intent is a
big part of sin, and intent is important. To me, there is no intention
ever to grow a human, or to grow a person to harvest kidneys or that
sort of thing. Rather, this is a way, as far as I can see, of finding
beneficial cells to inject back into the donor.”
Patrick Dobson is a
freelance journalist based in Kansas City, Mo.
research: What's happening around the country
In January, New Jersey passed
legislation that outlawed reproductive cloning but specifically
encouraged somatic cell nuclear transfer research for
regenerative medicine. California passed that kind of
legislation in 2002. Bills before the Massachusetts legislature
would mirror those of New Jersey and California.
The Louisiana Senate, which once
banned human cloning altogether, has advanced a bill out of
committee that would criminalize reproductive cloning and allow
therapeutic cloning or somatic cell nuclear transfer. A similar
bill passed the House on a vote of 55-42. It now awaits a joint
resolution that will go before both houses for a vote.
A reproductive cloning ban that
would have encouraged biomedical research with somatic cell
nuclear transfer died in a deadlocked Illinois Senate May 12,
28-28. Its backers will try again when the legislature convenes
in the fall.
At the end of April, Robert
Venables of the Delaware Senate withdrew a bill he sponsored
that would have allowed stem cell research from somatic cell
nuclear transfer. While science was behind stem cell research,
he said, election-year pressures prevented him from pushing the
bill, which had the backing of some scientists and biomedical
research companies. Catholic and other church and antiabortion
groups lobbied against the bill.
In the second week of May, 206
members of the U.S. House of Representatives signed a letter
asking President Bush to allow funding of research on embryos
that would normally be discarded from fertility clinics. The
letter’s signers included three dozen pro-life advocates
convinced stem cell research should move forward after the
Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation sent patients to visit
legislators on Capitol Hill.
The National Institutes of Health
reported in late February that at least 16 of the 78 approved
stem cell lines had died or failed to reproduce in their lab
environments, making them useless for research, and that a
majority of the rest would likely come to the same fate. When a
colony of stem cells crashes, or dies, it cannot be replaced
under Bush administration policies that contain restrictions on
embryonic stem cell research. The restrictions allowed research
on existing stem cell lines derived from material from aborted
or miscarried fetuses but would not allow more to be developed
in the same manner. Many of the approved stem cell lines have
developed cancers or genetic abnormalities akin to genetic
mutations that make them useless for research or therapy.
-- Patrick Dobson
National Catholic Reporter, June 18,