By John Jalsevac

WASHINGTON, D.C., June 20, 2007 ( – While President Bush pleased pro-life advocates today by proving willing once again to defend human life by vetoing a bill that would have allowed federal funding for embryonic stem-cell research, he has also left them scratching their heads after he simultaneously issued an executive order supporting so-called “pluripotent” stem-cell research. That research, some argue, is nothing more than embryonic stem cell research under a different name.

The scientifically complex—and consequently, seemingly morally muddy—source of stem-cells known as pluripotent stem-cells involves “reprogramming” adult cells to act like embryonic stem-cells through a process called “altered nuclear transfer” (ANT).

However, while many pro-life advocates have welcomed this type of research as a way to avoid the creation and destruction of embryos while still being able to reap the possible benefits that embryo-type cells could yield, other pro-life ethicists and scientists have argued that, as it is currently being practiced, pluripotent stem-cell research just amounts to the same thing as embryonic stem-cell research, except with a few more steps thrown in and a different name.

Judie Brown from American Life League told today that Bush is pursuing a course that is just as ethically fraught as embryonic stem cell research, which he just opposed by vetoing the funding bill.

“Bush is doing what the national council for bioethics recommended,” said Brown, “and that is supporting the research of Hurlbut and his allies, and that research has been shown to be questionable about whether a human embryo is present.” Such stem cell research, concluded Brown, “is unethical and immoral and should not be supported by anybody.”

Brown also said that it is her belief that it is simply a logical consequence of Bush’s so-called “balanced” view on embryonic stem-cells that Congress was able to put another bill before Bush, attempting to lift the ban on federal funding. “The proponents of human embryonic research are going to continue to come back annually because they see a flaw in his position,” said Brown. “He is only opposed to taxpayer funding. He is not opposed to private funding. The more pressure that is built up by Congress, the more likely that eventually there will be a veto proof bill. I find that tragic, because the president has the moral authority to say that embryonic stem cell research should be completely outlawed.”

A report released last year by the American Life League took a strong stance against pluripotent stem-cell research, based upon the woeful lack of ethical discernment about the process, and the likelihood that pluripotent stem-cells are actually nothing other than embryonic human beings.

“Since ANT/OAR could be used to promote the creation and killing of disabled human embryos and could be complicit in harming women through egg harvesting,” said Judie Brown in that report, “we urge senators to defend the sanctity and dignity of the human being by voting against the Alternative Pluripotent Stem Cell Therapies Enhancement Act (S. 2754).”

The White House press release published today (the same press release that announced Bush’s veto of the embryonic stem cell bill), said “Scientists have recently shown they have the ingenuity and skill to pursue the potential benefits of pluripotent stem cell research—research on cells that have the potential to develop into nearly all the cell types and tissues in the body—without endangering human life in the process. By expanding support for non-destructive research methods, this Executive Order will make it more likely that these exciting advances continue to unfold.”

If, however—argue opponents of this type of research—these adult cells are reprogrammed to act like embryonic stem-cells—which are sometimes able to develop into full embryos again by a process known as “regulation” – then what is present is potentially a human being.  Thus the destruction of such cells for the purpose of research is grossly unethical, and cannot be considered as research that does not endanger human life, as the White House press release stated.

Some scientists, however, have posited that it might be possible when, in the process of reprogramming the adult cells, to ensure that in some way the resultant cell is “disabled” and therefore cannot develop as a normal embryo would, thereby rendering the product of the process a “biological artifact.” But that begs the question of whether or not the pluripotent cell is actually a “biological” artifact, or simply a severely disabled human embryo.

“Sadly,” said Judie Brown in the ALL report, “the experimental testing of ANT so far has rendered this benign hypothesis beside the point. The current research in mouse models does not fit the original vision of creating non-embryo entities. Rather, it has created embryos that, like the ‘replicant’ characters of the science fiction thriller Blade Runner, come with a ‘termination date.’”

Joe Scheidler, one of the pro-life movement’s most prominent leaders, has also expressed his disapproval of attempts to pursue pluripotent research. “I don’t want my tax money supporting something until it is absolutely clear that they are not harming life,” Scheidler told last year.

Read the White House press release:

See related coverage:

American Life League Statement – Problems with Santorum-Specter Bill S. 2754


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