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March 5, 2004|
HARVARD SCIENTISTS KILLING EMBRYONIC BABIES FOR STEM CELLS |
President Bush established a policy prohibiting the use of federal funds for use in embryonic stem cell research except for a limited number of stem cell lines that had been extracted from embryos that had already been killed. Absent an outright ban on experiments that injure or kill human beings, the door was left ajar and scientists using private funds walked right through it proving once again that the exception makes the rule.
Yesterday the Associated Press reported that Harvard scientists are offering colleagues free access to 17 new human embryonic stem cell lines developed without government money, hoping to boost research that the Bush administration has tried to restrict.
"I think the field needs to be stimulated, and this is an excellent way for stimulating the field," said Dr. Leonard Zon, president of the International Society for Stem Cell Research, and a professor of pediatrics at Harvard's Children's Hospital, Boston.
Embryonic stem cells are typically taken from days-old human embryos that have been engendered through in-vitro fertilization. Removal of the stem cells kills the embryos. The cells are then grown into "lines" or colonies and it is believed they can continue to grow indefinitely. However, there is no evidence that stem cells taken from human embryos would produce a positive response in patients afflicted with serious diseases or conditions. On the contrary, where they have been used, runaway cell growth has occurred causing serious and undesirable consequences. In contrast, stem cells taken from umbilical cord blood, human placentas and adult tissue have yielded cures.
Dr. Douglas Melton's lab at Harvard used private funding to create the new set of stem cell lines for research on diabetes and is making them available to other scientists. Dr. Melton's funding came from Harvard, the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.
Besides private foundations, research support may also be coming from states. New Jersey Gov. James E. McGreevey, who recently signed legislation permitting the cloning of human embryos, wants the state to spend $50 million for embryonic stem cell research, and a group in California is pushing for a $3 billion bond issue for the same purpose.
Politicians frequently establish commissions and review boards to deal with thorny issues they would rather not confront head-on. The President's Council on Bioethics appears to be a case-in-point. While they meet and mull, scientists rush ahead, finding no meaningful impediments in their path.
Only one member of the court, Justice Janice Rogers Brown, dissented from the opinion, saying, "The government is not accidentally or incidentally interfering with religious practice; it is doing so willfully by making a judgment about what is or is not a religion."
The ruling would force the Catholic Church in California to turn its back on its own teachings, which consider contraception a mortal sin a violation of the Natural Law. It is the direct result of the acceptance of state funding for the operation of its many social service agencies. He who pays the piper calls the tune.
It would be a courageous move on the part of Church authorities if they would refuse to accept this mandate and hold fast to Church teaching. They can either decline further government funding, providing what services they can using private money, or they can simply go out of the social service business altogether.
Either way, the burden on the state of California, once deprived of the myriad of services the Catholic Church provides to millions of people every year, may cause the California Assembly to get involved to protect faith-based entities from mandates that fly in the face of their religious beliefs.
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