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FEATURE: Does Pro-Life Cloning Exist? The Debate Rages
On | Valerie Schmalz | June 16, 2005
Can techniques of human cloning be altered to serve life in a morally
acceptable way? The question is debated even as the U.S. Senate may be
poised to pass funding bill.
Pro-life scientists and ethicists trying to find a middle way in the national
firefight over embryonic stem cell research believe they may have come
up with a way to mimic the cloning process to produce embryonic stem cell-like
cellsbut without creating or destroying an embryo.
Lawmakers under attack for opposing embryonic stem research have latched
onto the idea and may well succeed in funding research into the new theories
by years end.
Meanwhile, a small number of philosophers and scientists believe it is
impossible to genetically engineer the cloning process to an ethically
acceptable end and are fighting a rear-guard action against the ideas.
In the Senate, vocally pro-life Sen. Rick Santorum plans to join with
Majority Leader Bill Frist and Wyoming Sen. Mike Enzi to sponsor legislation
to fund research into developing human pluripotent stem cells without
killing tiny humans.
Human pluripotent stem cells are plastic and scientists say they are capable
of developing into any of the 200-plus differentiated cells in the human
body. So far, however, no successful therapies have resulted, while non-embryo-destructive
adult stem cells have yielded dozens of useful treatments.
"There may be some scientific benefit from doing embryonic stem cell
research," said Santorum, a Catholic. "So Im not against
the research per se as long as it can be done ethically."
The legislation would be based on the idea of alternative sources of the
cells described in a White Paper titled "Alternative Sources of Pluripotent
Stem Cells" and presented by the Presidents Council on Bioethics
in May, and on a newer theory supported by 35 pro-life scientists and
ethicists presented in a Wall
June 20 guest editorial.
Pro-abortion senators such as Iowa Democrat Tom Harkin are
giving grudging support. "Lets be clear, these alternative
approaches are nothing but theories. They are hypothetical, speculative,
and totally unproven," Harkin said. "Should we pursue these
alternative methods? Absolutely."
"You have to have a third option," Providence College biologist
and moral theologian Fr. Nicanor Austriaco said, remarking as a priest
he sees that many people believe embryonic stem cells will yield a cure
to diseases such as Parkinsons. "A third option has to be given
in order to convince, in a way that many people are not convinced, that
the pro-life side is also pro-patient."
Senate Action Centers Around Embryonic Stem Cell Funding Bill
Republican Senate leaders are working with the Democratic leadership to
bring a package of at least five cloning and stem cell bills to the floor
as early as the week of July 18th, before the Senate adjourns
for the August recess. At the heart of the debate will be a bill to loosen
federal restrictions on embryonic stem cell funding that was passed by
the U.S. House of Representatives 238-194. The Senate is also expected
to pass the bill, which would allow the use of "discarded" in-vitro
fertilization embryos to be used for federally funded research, U.S. bishops
conference pro-life lobbyist Richard Doerflinger said. President George
W. Bush has promised to veto the legislation.
The federal research funding restrictions put in place in 2001 by President
Bush limit funding to embryonic stem cell lines in existence at that time
and prohibit the killing of any more embryos for research.
At the same time the House passed the in-vitro embryo expansion of federal
research funding in May, it voted 431-1 for the Cord Blood Stem Cell Act
of 2005. That bill would authorize $15 million in federal funds during
fiscal year 2006 and as needed through fiscal year 2010 to subsidize cord
blood banks. Umbilical cord blood is being used in successful adult stem
cell therapies to treat leukemia, aplastic anemia, and a number of other
diseases. The U.S. bishops conference opposes
the first bill and supports the second. President Bush said he would
sign the cord blood act.
In the Senate debate, several other bills will be added to the mix, Santorum
said. In addition to the bill to promote development of ethical alternatives
to human pluripotent stem cellsor embryonic-stem cell-like
cellsa national ban on human cloning, and a ban on the creation
of chimeras (which mix human and animal DNA) will be debated. Doerflinger
said the cloning ban is unlikely to pass, although it has already been
approved twice by the House of Representatives in past years, but the
chimera ban should be approved.
If the alternative human pluripotent stem cells bill is approved, it would
then go to the House of Representatives for a vote.
Senate leaders from both parties are negotiating the rules of the floor
debate and votes but a 60-vote majority (which would be filibuster-proof)
would probably be required for passage and probably no amendments to the
bills could be added on the Senate floor.
"What you might end up with is Congress passing four or five bills.
And the president signs only the ones that dont destroy embryos,"
said Doerflinger, deputy director for the Secretariat for Pro-life Activities
of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
"And we end up, when the smoke clears, with advances in stem cell
research without promoting the destruction of lifewhich would be
a wonderful result."
Do Alternative Sources of Human Pluripotent Stem Cells Exist?
For the past six months to a year, a furious discussion has been waged
within the community of pro-life scientists and ethicists as they try
to find an alternative to the killing of embryos while providing the same
type of cell for scientists to use for research. Scientists, particularly
some of those associated with the Presidents Council on Bioethics,
believed that this could provide a third way.
As Council chairman Leon Kass wrote in a Washington Post op-ed
published July 12 ("A
Way Forward on Stem Cells"), alternative methods might provide
a "technological solution to the (moral) dilemma" of embryo-killing
"Senators will be given a chance to enact legislation to increase
funding for alternative sources," he wrote. "They should not
miss this timely and most promising opportunity for scientific and ethical
Four theories related to finding ethical means of creating human pluripotent
stem cells, or embryonic-stem cell like cells, were published in a White
Paper by the Presidents Council on Bioethics in May.
But the theory that has garnered the most interest is the one that was
published after the White Paper was released. Called oocyte-assisted reprogramming,
it is a variation on the cloning procedure that its advocates say skips
the creation of the embryo and jumps directly to the creation of the human
pluripotent stem cells. Opponents, including David Prentice, a scientist
with the Family Research Council, and Adrian Walker, a Catholic philosopher
and associate editor of Communio, say it may not be possible to
skip the embryonic stage and thus a very tiny human could be killed.
Public Support for Embryo-Destructive Research Grows
With celebrities such as Michael J. Fox and former First Lady Nancy Reagan
touting embryonic stem cell research, it is perhaps not surprising that
a Parade Magazine poll published July 10th found
57 percent of Americans support federal funding for embryonic stem cell
research. The poll surveyed 1,000 people by telephone and had a plus or
minus sampling error of 3.1 percent.
"Theres enormous political pressure on this. The major media,
all these people are clamoring for embryonic stem cell research,"
said William May, the Michael J. McGivney Professor of Moral Theology
at the John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family in Washington,
D.C. May (a former member of the Vaticans International Theological
Commission), joined the group of 35 scientists and ethicists who signed
the statement supporting animal research into oocyte-assisted reprogramming.
"This (if it works) is a way of obtaining pluripotent stem cells
without killing human embryos. Thats whats immoral, killing
embryos," May told IgnatiusInsight.com.
Other ideas on the table include extracting cells from an early embryo
in a biopsy procedure and culturing them, trying to get adult stem cells
to de-differentiate backward, and extracting cells from IVF embryos determined
to be dead. Bishops pro-life lobbyist Doerflinger says only the
de-differentiation procedure and animal testing of the OAR theory are
acceptable to the Catholic Church.
The federal government has restricted federal funding to all but a few
embryonic stem cell lines developed with embryos killed before August
9, 2001. In response, so far California, New Jersey and Connecticut have
authorized funding of human embryonic stem cell research. Illinois
governor, despite legislative defeat of embryonic stem cell funding, signed
an executive order this month to fund it.
Pros and Cons of the OAR Theory
The theory of oocyte-assisted reprogramming would involve transferring
the nucleus of an adult cellthe nucleus is the part of the cell
that contains the genetic codeinto an egg without its own nucleus,
to create a new cell. Because of prior genetic alterations to both the
transferred nucleus and the egg, the resulting cellthe OAR theory
proposeswould in fact be a pluripotent stem cell with properties
identical to embryonic stem cells. Where it differs from cloning
is that the goal of OAR is that the egg lacking its nucleus and the
transferred nucleus are used to produce a pluripotent cell while completely
skipping any embryonic stages.
The debate over this theory is distinguished both by the number of orthododox
Catholic thinkers and scientists who support animal testing of it and
by the fact those most strongly opposed to it on moral grounds share the
same faithful Catholic beliefs.
OAR is a variation of the theory of altered nuclear transfer, a modified cloning
process which proposes to avoid embryo creation completely. It
was proposed by Stanford University Dr. William Hurlbutwho describes
himself as Christian but not Catholicto the Presidents Council
on Bioethics in December. The OAR form of the theory is designed to avoid
the problems many pro-life people saw in ANTs original form. In
that form, a gene was deleted during the process and some said a genetically
deformed embryo could result rather than a tumor with human pluripotent
stem cells, as Hurlbut believed. In the OAR theory, a gene is hyper expressed
so that the reprogramming skips completely over the totipotent stage where
it is possible to develop into a complete human to the stage of being
able to develop into many different kinds of cells but not into one being.
"OAR is a method that can be tested and applied very quickly, because
it already uses existing technologies," said Oregon Health and Science
Universitys Markus Grompe, who serves on the board of the International
Society for Stem Cell Research. He wrote the Wall Street Journal
piece with Princeton Universitys Robert George.
Of the nearly three dozen scientists and bioethicists who signed the statement
supporting animal testing are notably faithful Catholic ethicists such
as Rev. Tadeusz Pacholczyk of the National Catholic Bioethics Center,
Germain Grisez, May, Austriaco, and Archbishop John Myers,
archbishop of Newark, N.J.
Primary orthodox Catholic opponents are David Schindler, editor in chief
of Communio, a sister publication of a journal of the same name
founded in Germany by then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, and Communio
associate editor Adrian Walker. Walker says the many Catholics supporting
this theory have been led astray by their hope of finding a political
alternative. No matter how briefly it is in play, the fusion of an ennucleated
egg (without a nucleus) and a donor cell, creates an early human, he
"Theres a real danger of wanting this to be true, because if
it were true, it would have such political significance," Walker
said in a conversation from Frieburg, Germany.
"When I read the list of people who signed the joint statement in
the Wall Street Journal, I couldnt get to sleep that night.
(I thought) Oh, my God, whats happened to all these staunch defenders
of life from conception to the gravewhy dont they see theres
a problem with this?"
The Family Research Councils science advisor and evangelical Christian
David Prentice also opposes the OAR idea in general although he would
accept animal testing. "I dont like it. I still feel like you
are sabotaging development of an embryo," he said. Prentice also
serves as science advisor to Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback, a Catholic convert
and one of two main co-sponsors of the Senate legislation to ban human
Prentice said the story of adult stem cells is the success story and this
only diverts attention.
"There are now at least a dozen published scientific papers showing
that some adult stem cells are pluripotent, in other words, they have
the ability to form all of the adult tissues," Prentice said. "And
by focusing on embryonic stem cells, they take the focus off of the success
that weve seen in thousands of patients with adult stem cells and
with cord blood stem cells."
Austriaco said animal testing will answer worries about whether an embryo
is created. If a mouse embryo results, that will end discussion, Austriaco
said. "Put it in a mouse and see if it grows up. This is a very easy
test we can do with mice that we couldnt do with people," Austriaco
"That sounds really simple and obvious," retorts Walker. "But
what Im saying is the real issue in this debate is what are the
criteria for deciding when somethings a human being? If you have
the wrong criteria, you are going to misunderstand what the laboratory
testing is telling you."
Fr. Pacholczyk, director of education for The National Catholic Bioethics
Center in Philadelphia, said Walker misunderstands the process and only
partial reprogramming of the cell, which is a part of the cloning process,
takes place so there is never an embryo.
Catholic pro-life stem cell scientist Grompe points out that it was only
in 1998 that the existence of human embryonic stem cells was discovered
while in previous decades animal embryonic stem cells were primarily used
to genetically engineer mice for research.
"I am not saying ES cells are superior to adult cells," Grompe
said. "I am just stating the fact that the research has not been
going on long enough to know if ES-derived cells are better or worse."
Also see the following IgnatiusInsight.com articles:
and Stem Cell Bills Set To Be Up For Senate Debate | Valerie Schmalz
| July 16, 2005
Stem Cells: Definitions of Key Terms | Valerie Schmalz | July 16,
Valerie Schmalz is a writer for IgnatiusInsight. She worked as a
reporter and editor for The Associated Press, and in print and broadcast
media for ten years. She holds a BA in Government from University of San
Francisco and a Master of Science from the School of Foreign Service at
Georgetown University. She is the former director of Birthright of San Francisco.
Valerie and her wonderful husband have four children.
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