Babies Need Not Die for Stem Cell Research, Cures

by Ted Kyle

It's an old lie, that tiny human beings have to die in order to provide a source of the wonderfully adaptive stem cells so acclaimed by science as the raw material for a host of medical "miracles." So says Richard M. Doerflinger, writing in the October/November 2000 issue of Life in Oregon.

Doerflinger, who is the associate director of the Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities, National Conference of Catholic Bishops, states that despite the claim that stem cells cannot be found in most adult tissues, "medical experts have used ‘hematopoietic' (blood producing) stem cells from patients' bone marrow. Now stem cells have been found in a wide variety of adult tissues: neural stem cells in brain ad other nerve tissue; ‘mesenchymal" stem cells that form new bone and cartilage in bone marrow; ‘epithelial' stem cells in skin and eye tissue; and stem cells in the pancreas, muscle tissue, and so on." Live neural stem cells can even be obtained from adult cadavers, hours or days after death (UniSci [unisci.com] April 28, 1999).

Another false claim for stem cells from fetuses is that they are less likely to be rejected by the recipient's immune system, Doerflinger said. In reality, a patient's own stem cells-which can be modified, stimulated, or grown in culture-enjoy the greatest degree of immunity. Furthermore, stem cells can be obtained from placentas or umbilical cords from live births, without the need to destroy lives to save lives.

Still another claim which is not supported by the facts is that embryonic cells are "pluripotent"-capable of forming a wide variety of different tissues-while adult stem cells can only be used to produce one or two types of cells. In reality, Doerflinger wrote, adult stem cells are vastly more versatile than once thought. He quoted Swedish researchers, reporting in the June 2 issue of Science, that adult neural stem cells can produce many different cell types. For instance, they noted studies showing that bone marrow stem cells transplanted to the brain can produce nerve tisse; and that blood-producing stem cells can produce muscle cells-and vice versa.

In all this changeable research landscape, Doerflinger concluded, "only one thing is certain: the exaggerated claim that we must destroy human embryos to advance medical progress was not only morally obtuse but scientifically irresponsible."