Stem cell research in NC

My bishop today asked North Carolina Catholics to contact their legislators regarding a bill supporting embryonic stem cell research that is making its way through the State House.

Here’s my contribution:

Dear Representative X,

As one of your constituents, I recently discovered that the State House is considering the “Stem Cell Research Health and Wellness Act,” HB 1837, which has been recently sent to the Appropriations Committee on which you serve. I would like to point out two areas in particular for your consideration as your committee considers this bill: the failure of this bill to adequately address ethical concerns about embryonic stem cell research, and the lack of support for other kinds of stem cell research which avoid the insurmountable ethical problems with embryonic research.

The bill as currently written would make it state policy that embryonic stem cell research could be conducted only on cells derived from “excess” embryos donated after in vitro fertilization treatment. On its surface, this appears to be an admirable solution. However, it does not address the primary ethical concern that many of your constituents have with such research: that it destroys a human embryo. Whether created for the purpose of stem cell research or for in vitro fertilization does not change the basic fact that embryos are destroyed to produced embryonic stem cells. If you consider an embryo to be a human life, this can never be condoned, even if miraculous treatments be generated as a result.

Our legislature could, however, endorse and fund research designed to circumvent this problem. Researchers at Wake Forest University School of Medicine, for example, have derived cells with many of the properties of embryonic stem cells from amniotic fluid. With the support of our state, these scientists and many others like them may generate ways to produce cells with many, if not all, of the benefits of embryonic stem cells without destroying embryos in the process. In addition, adult-derived stem cell research shows great promise in medical therapeutics. By focusing on areas of research that do not contain ethical pitfalls, we would set an example for the rest of the country to follow.

I acknowledge that my requests may sound like pleas to limit the creativity of scientists. But, as a molecular biologist by training, I have come to understand that what we can pursue must be tempered by what we ought to pursue. Embryonic stem cell research may be a panacea for all I know, but to save lives at the expense of countless others is a cure that we cannot risk. This policy debate turns on whether a human embryo is a human life. That is something that science cannot answer, so we should err on the side of caution.

If you’re in North Carolina, please go write your state representatives. It doesn’t take much time, and it just might make a difference.

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