A lot of erroneous science has been used in the cloning and stem cell debates. Fake science will not do the job. Politicians, legislators and the public — including the laity — must become fully informed about the accurate scientific facts involved in all these related issues. Without such accurate facts there can be no true democratic process.
God bless you.
Elizabeth D. Wickham, PhD
Executive Director, LifeTree
PO Box 19301
Raleigh, NC, 27619
PS: FYI, our website has a new look. The long version of the Culture of Death timeline is still online at www.lifetree.org/timeline
With the new web design current emails to the LifeTree EOL/Stem Cell List will appear periodically on the home page and many of the old emails can be found under the Resources link.
“…The deliberate decision to deprive an innocent human being of his life is always morally evil and can never be licit either as an end in itself or as a means to an end… the use of human embryos or fetuses as an object of experimentation constitutes a crime against their dignity as human beings who have a right to the same respect owed to a child once born, just as every person. This moral condemnation also regards procedures that exploit living human embryos and fetuses – sometimes specifically 'produced' for this purpose by in vitro fertilization – either to be used as 'biological material' or as providers of organs or tissue for transplants in the treatment of certain diseases. The killing of innocent human creatures, even if carried out to help others, constitutes an absolutely unacceptable act."
Evangelium Vitae, March, 1995.
Moral Issues in Stem Cell Research*
What are the important moral issues concerning in vitro fertilization, stem cell research and human cloning?
- Human In vitro fertilization: the Catholic Church opposes in vitro fertilization (IVF) techniques. All forms of IVF are prohibited by the Church. (1) The Church teaches that IVF reproduction methods “are contrary to the human dignity proper to the embryo, and at the same time they are contrary to the right of every person to be conceived and to be born within marriage and from marriage. Also, attempts or hypotheses for obtaining a human being without any connection with sexuality through “twin fission”, cloning or parthenogenesis are to be considered contrary to the moral law, since they are in opposition to the dignity both of human procreation and of the conjugal union.” (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s “Instruction on Respect for Human Life in its Origin and on the Dignity of Procreation”, February 22, 1987)
- Human adult stem cell research: the Catholic Church fully supports research and treatment with adult stem cells, providing all conditions for legally valid informed consent are met. Using adult stem cells for treatment and research is the same as using donated blood to study disease or a donated kidney to treat a person with kidney failure.
- Human embryonic stem cell research: the Catholic Church firmly opposes human embryonic stem cell research. “It is a duty to condemn the particular gravity of the voluntary destruction of human embryos obtained ‘in vitro’ for the sole purpose of research, either by means of artificial insemination or by means of ‘twin fission.’” (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s “Instruction on Respect for Human Life in its Origin and on the Dignity of Procreation”, February 22, 1987)
- Human cloning: the Catholic Church teaches that all human cloning is contrary to the dignity of human beings and their right to life. “As a form of unnatural asexual reproduction, it represents a radical manipulation of the constitutive relationship and complementarity that are at the origin of human procreation as a biological act and an exercise of human love.” (Vatican’s Mission to the United Nations, " The View of the Holy See on Human Cloning”, February, 2003.) In human cloning the necessary condition for any society begins to collapse: that of treating man always and everywhere as an end, as a value, and never as a mere means or simple object. (Pontifical Academy for Life, Reflections on Cloning, September, 1997.)
The Science of Stem Cell Research*
What is a differentiated cell?
Differentiation refers to the degree of specialization or programming of the DNA in a cell. During human development, cells differentiate or specialize by means of regulating the cell’s DNA. Methylation plays a major role in differentiation, e.g. as the embryo/fetus grows, the DNA in each cell is either “silenced” or “allowed to speak” by the addition or removal of methylation molecules, depending on what products the developing human being needs at any specific time in any specific part of the body. The more specialized or methylated the DNA of a cell becomes the more differentiated the cell is. Adult skin cells are some of the most differentiated (methylated, programmed) cells. Such human development continues even after birth. The human brain is not even fully differentiated until after 20 years of age. (This information was provided by Dr. Dianne Irving.)
What is a totipotent cell?
A totipotent cell is one that is capable of forming all of the cells, tissues and organs of the later adult body (if allowed). Most of the cells (blastomeres) of the intact early human embryo are totipotent, including the single-cell human organism formed at the beginning of fertilization (or cloning), the zygote, the morula and the cells of the inner cell mass of the blastocyst. However, depending on the degree of development of the embryo, its cells exhibit a range of totipotency. Once any of these totipotent cells or blastomeres is separated from the whole embryo, it is possible that they could be reverted back to a new human organism/human being by means of the natural biological process of “regulation” (assuming regulation is successful). “Pluripotent” means the cell is only capable of making most of the cells, tissues and organs of the future adult; “multipotent” means the cell is further restricted to making only some. (This information was provided by Dr. Dianne Irving.)
What is regulation?
Regulation is a natural biological process that can manipulate the degree of differentiation (specialization, programming) in a cell, including the methylation of the cell’s DNA. Regulation has at least two functions:
- It can heal a damaged embryo. For example, if an 8-cell embryo is damaged by the splitting off of 2 of its totipotent cells, regulation can reprogram (demethylate) the DNA in the cells of the damaged embryo (which now contains only 6 cells) back to what it should be for a 6-cell embryo.
- It can revert separated totipotent cells into new organisms. For example, it can reprogram (demethylate) the DNA in the 2 totipotent cells that split off from an 8-cell embryo back to what they should be for a 2-cell embryo. If 1 totipotent cell splits off from an intact embryo, regulation could possibly revert that single totipotent cell back to the single-cell organism called the zygote. However, regulation does not always succeed, in which case the embryo and the cells die.
Regulation has been used for many years to explain the natural formation of human monozygotic twins/triplets in vivo. (This information was provided by Dr. Dianne Irving and Dr. John B. Shea.)
What is a stem cell?
A stem cell is a partially differentiated, but not fully differentiated, cell. Virtually every tissue in the body has stem cells, but in some tissues they are extremely difficult to identify. They are there to replace damaged or lost differentiated cells. There may be multiple factors which stimulate them to divide and proliferate. When they do, a stem cell produces two daughter cells, one of which moves to a pool of fully differentiating cells; the other daughter cell remains in the pool of stem cells, available to be stimulated again. They were known in histology many decades ago and prior to the early 60s these cells were called “regenerative cells” or “reparative cells.” Stem cells in adult tissues, i.e., in fully differentiated tissues, are referred to as “adult stem cells.” Some of these cells, especially those from peripheral blood, bone marrow or umbilical cord blood, have been shown to transform into definitive cells of tissues different than their origin after chemical nudging. (This information was provided by Dr. Ward Kischer.)
What are “embryonic stem cells”?
We do not know when during human development the stem cells actually appear. Some may appear during the embryo age (before the end of the first eight weeks) or may appear during the fetal age (9 weeks or beyond). However, the term “embryonic stem cell” has been commandeered and applied to the blastomeres (cells) of the early embryo from the single cell stage to the blastocyst stage, or about the 7th day of existence. Most of the blastomeres are totipotent, not pluripotent. Note: Researchers insist on calling them pluripotent which avoids the issue of regulation.
It is inferred that because the early embryonic cells, with their countless cell divisions, will give rise to every cell in the human body, they must be the “stem” of any tissue (more than 200 types of tissues). That may be true in the technical sense, but the term is misused. Only in the broadest sense can the term “stem cell” be applied to these early embryonic cells. In reality the early cells of the embryo will EVENTUALLY derive true “stem cells” for virtually each and every tissue.
(This information was provided by Dr. Ward Kischer.)
What is human cloning?
Human cloning is asexual or a mixture of sexual and asexual human reproduction. It is any procedure which produces a human embryo, human being, human person, or human organism not solely initiated by the union of an oocyte of a human female and the sperm of a human male. Human cloning includes but is not limited to: somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT), germ line cell nuclear transfer (GLCNT), twinning (blastomere separation and embryo splitting), pronuclei transfer, mitochondrial transfer, parthenogenesis, production of human/non-human and human/human chimeras, etc. Many scientists have especially grave concerns about the use of germ line cell nuclear transfer cloning techniques for eugenic purposes.
Most people do not understand that in twinning which occurs naturally inside the mother, half of those human twins are asexually reproduced by blastomere separation or blastocyst splitting and that this twinning is the most perfect form of cloning.
Note: A bill that supposedly bans all human cloning but which limits the definition of “human cloning” to only one technique (i.e., the use of somatic cells in nuclear transfer) means that the bill would by default legally permit the use of other available techniques to clone human beings. This defect is found in several state and federal bills to ban cloning. Unfortunately, SCNT itself is misdefined in these bills, another loophole. (2)
When does a human being begin to exist?
A human being is composed of both an immaterial soul and a material body. Both begin to exist simultaneously – no “delay”. Considering just the material aspect, human beings can be reproduced both sexually (fertilization/conception) and asexually (cloning, genetic engineering, etc.) – or by a combination of both. In sexual reproduction, a new human being begins to exist when the sperm penetrates the oocyte. In asexual reproduction, a new human being begins to exist when the DNA in the cell is properly programmed or differentiated to be the same as that of an embryo (whether single- or multi-celled). (3) Both techniques can be used together, e.g., an embryo can be sexually reproduced, and then one of its blastomeres can be cloned or genetically engineered. In “twinning”, the first twin begins to exist by sexual reproduction (fertilization/conception); the second twin is a clone of the first twin and begins to exist as soon as its DNA is reprogrammed back to that of an embryo. In pronuclei transfer, two human embryos can be sexually reproduced; then the male pronuclei from one embryo and the female pronuclei from the other embryo are transferred to an enucleated oocyte and cloned (creating a human/human chimera). At each of these beginnings, the human being develops along a continuum of life until death. At any point along this continuum there exists a whole, individual, integrated human being/person. (4)
Note: It is no longer accurate to say that all human beings begin to exist at conception/fertilization, because this terminology ignores half of all naturally occurring human monozygotic twins in vivo, and all cloned or genetically engineered human beings in vitro. Pope John XXIII used a more general term when he recalled that “Human life is sacred from its very inception and it reveals the creating hand of God.”
What is the significance of the scientific fact that “embryonic stem cells” are totipotent?
When a totipotent cell is separated from a human embryo, the natural biological process of regulation could, if successful, revert this cell back to a new human embryo. Thus the removal of these embryonic cells could provide a constant and continuous source of “biological materials” for more human cloning and human genetic engineering research – embryos that would elude laws and regulations. Indeed, cloning by “twinning” is now done in IVF centers as “infertility treatments”, in order to have more embryos to implant. (5)
Why are researchers interested in human “embryonic stem cells”?
What is really wanted by those who promote human embryonic stem cell research? The most prominently mentioned reason is for “regenerative medicine”, therapies and research in the treatment of diseases. The argument for medical treatments is that stem cells could be used to treat illnesses in which diseased cells and tissues do not work properly. The proponents of human “embryonic stem cell research” say that it should be possible to coax these cells to form almost any type of cell in the body, given the appropriate developmental growth factors and stimuli.
Aside from the obvious issue of rejection of these “stem cells” by patients, to date not a single cure or even improvement with “embryonic stem cells” has been reliably documented, yet for many years now extensive successes using adult stem cells have been documented in human patients. (6)
In addition, the drug companies have a strong financial interest in securing patent rights. But perhaps the real interest includes human cloning and other human genetic engineering research, nanotechnology research and development requiring human “fragments”, the production of dangerous “mutagens”, IVF basic research and “infertility treatments” at IVF centers.
Thus, the focus of the debate should be expanded to include whether a new human being is actually being produced for research, whether a new human being is being produced “per design”, and whether any kind of cloning or genetic engineering techniques are being used in IVF clinics for “infertility treatments.” (7)
What are sources of human stem cells?
-- Human adult stem cells, including “stem cells” from umbilical cord blood, etc.
-- “Stem” cells derived from “spare” human embryos reproduced sexually in IVF clinics. IVF research was “inadvertently” allowed when the 1994 NIH Revitalization Act was passed. IVF research (much of which is “human embryo research”) is not regulated by the government. Fertilized embryos which are not implanted for reproduction are made available for research as long as the woman has given “informed consent”.
-- Human embryos can be reproduced both sexually and asexually (by a variety of cloning techniques) in IVF clinics or other labs. Human cloning is legal. As we discussed earlier even many bills which supposedly ban all cloning have serious defects. Most of these bills fail to ban the use of many different cloning and genetic engineering techniques, including artificial twinning (blastomere separation or blastocyst splitting), and nuclear transfer, forms of cloning now used in IVF clinics as “infertility treatments.” (8)
-- Parthenogenetic activation of oocytes or other types of hemi-cloning. Parthenogenetic activation “tricks” oocytes into thinking they have been fertilized. It involves using an electric pulse to spark cell division, which will continue until the parthenogenetic embryos (so-called parthenotes) reach the blastocyst stages. Hemi-cloning can also be accomplished by nuclear transfer using artificially produced haploid gametes.
Note: Dr. Vrana and colleagues at Wake Forest University in North Carolina have successfully produced parthenogenetically activated blastocysts using oocytes from a macaque monkey and established one stable stem cell line.)
-- NIH supplies human embryonic and fetal “tissues” which contain human stem cells. (9)
Debate in the NC Legislature
What research is currently allowed in North Carolina and how is it funded?
All research methods described above are legal in North Carolina including human embryonic stem cell research and human cloning. Most are supported by private monies. Federal funding is currently available for adult stem cell research and embryonic stem cell research that qualifies according to limits set by the Bush administration in 2001.
What legislation has been introduced in North Carolina to authorize state funding of this research?
A new session of the North Carolina General Assembly began two weeks ago (mid-January, 2007). Currently, no bills to fund human stem cell research in NC have been introduced – YET! However, there has been activity for two years in the North Carolina General Assembly to develop legislation which will fund this research. Most of the discussion so far has been on embryonic stem cell research funding with very little attention directed to the ethically acceptable adult stem cell treatment successes. A summary follows:
HOUSE BILL 632 - Stem Cell Research Health & Wellness Act
Edition 1 (later revised to be the Federal bill’s language)
This bill was introduced in the 2005 session of the NCGA by Rep. Earl Jones of Greensboro and was referred to the House Health Committee. One committee meeting was held on August 11, 2005. Father Tadeusz Pacholczyk, Education Director of the National Catholic Bioethics Center of Philadelphia, was permitted to speak for three minutes on the ethical issues raised by embryonic stem cell research. Later H632 was referred to a Study Committee which met for 6 hearings throughout 2006. The Study Committee made a recommendation that the upcoming session of the General Assembly encourage the NCGA to “enact legislation to provide ethical guidelines for the conduct of stem cell research in the State.“
Chairman and sponsor of H632, Rep. Earl Jones, held a series of six House Select Committee on Stem Cell Research meetings throughout 2006.
1. The first hearing was held on March 21, 2006. Invited speakers were: Dr. Bridget L. M. Hogan, Chairman of the Duke University Department of Cell Biology, Lord Naren Patel, Chair of the UK Stem Cell Steering Committee and member of the House of Lords who spoke by teleconference, David Muller, Vice Consul Science and Technology of British Consulate-General, and Jim Brewer of the National Conference of State Legislatures, Genetic Technologies Project. All speakers promoted embryonic stem cell research funding. There were no invited speakers who opposed embryonic stem cell research funding nor was public comment allowed.
2. The second hearing was held on April 27, 2006. Invited speakers were: Alissa Johnson, Program Principle of the National Conference of State Legislatures, House Program who favored embryonic stem cell research and Lauren Dame, JD, MPH of the Institute of Genome Science and Policy at Duke University who stated that there was a range of views on the moral status of the embryo. Interested members of the public were given three minutes each to speak near the end of the hearing. A letter of opposition from Bishop Peter Jugis, Catholic Diocese of Charlotte was read. Jacques Mistrot,, MD, Elizabeth Wickham, Ph.D, Executive Director of LifeTree and Claire Schweitzer of St. Bernadette’s Respect Life Committee gave brief statements of the reasons for their opposition to embryonic stem cell research.
3. A third hearing was held on Wednesday, October 18, 2006. Invited speakers were: Mary Richards, Director of Government Relations, Parkinson’s Action Network and Lawrence Soler, VP Government Relations, Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation International. Both speakers strongly promoted embryonic stem cell research. Public questions and comments were not allowed. Only legislators in attendance were permitted to ask questions of the speakers.
4. A fourth meeting was held on Monday, November 20, 2006. Invited speakers were: Dr. Jacques Mistrot, retired Thorasic Surgeon and Associate of the Westchester Institute and Dr. Marie T. Hilliard, RN, PhD, Director of Bioethics and Public Policy at the National Catholic Bioethics Center. This was the only meeting to include scheduled speakers who opposed embryonic stem cell research. Unfortunately, the meeting occurred during Thanksgiving week and only two legislators on the 11-member Study Committee attended.
5. A fifth meeting was held on Thursday, December 13, 2006. Invited speakers were: Dr. Terry Magnuson, Director of the Carolina Center for Genome Sciences, Chair of the UNC-CH Department of Genetics and member of the guidelines panel of the National Academies, Dr. Larysa Pevny, Assistant Professor of Genetics at UNC-CH and Dr. Jeff Fair, Associate Professor of Surgery at UNC-CH. All of the speakers said they have been conducting research using embryonic stem cells. Dr. Magnuson said there is a groundswell of public support for embryonic stem cell research and discussed the National Academies guidelines which he helped formulate – use surplus IVF embryos, use nuclear transfer cloning techniques, set standards to avoid conflict of interest, ensure safe handling and transfer of human embryos, no payment should be given to donors, privacy should be respected, maintain registries of cell lines, have facility investigators, perform no research on embryos that are older than 14 days, allow research on chimeras but they should not be allowed to breed, etc. No public written or oral comment was permitted.
6. Final Recommendation of the House Select Committee on Stem Cell Research was made on December 19, 2006. By a unanimous vote of the eight members who were present the committee recommended as follows: “The House Select Committee on Stem Cell Research encourages the General Assembly to establish ETHICAL GUIDELINES (my emphasis) for stem cell research in this state. “ Q. Who will “define” the ethics? A. Bioethicists now do so by default.
HOUSE BILL 1293 – Stem Cell Research
This bill was introduced by Rep. Paul Miller of Durham in the 2005 session of the NCGA and was referred to the House Rules Committee where it never received a hearing.
HOUSE BILL 2737 – Stem Cell Research http://www.ncleg.net/Sessions/2005/Bills/House/HTML/H2737v1.html
This bill was introduced by Rep. Paul Miller of Durham in the 2006 session of the NCGA and was referred to the House Appropriations Committee where it never received a hearing.
* Much of the scientific information herein is taken from the writings of Drs. Dianne N. Irving, C. Ward Kischer and John B. Shea. I thank them for their generous assistance.
 For a discussion of the Church’s teachings on IVF see the article “The Immorality of In Vitro Fertilization” (Dec. 11, 2005) by John B. Shea, MD at: http://www.lifetree.org/resources/articles/ivf1.html.
 These bills legally define the PRODUCT of SCNT as “genetically identical to an existing or previously existing donor.” This is scientifically erroneous, as the product of this cloning technique is NOT genetically identical, since it does not contain the original donor’s mitrochondial DNA and does contain the foreign mitochondria of the enucleated oocyte. The mitrochondria is the egg’s shell.
For the analysis by Dr. Irving of the defects in federal and state bills see these articles:
- "Update on Scientific Definitions for Use in Legislation on Human Cloning and Other Genetic Engineering Research” (February 26, 2005) at http://www.lifeissues.net/writers/irv/irv_87updatedefinitions.html,
- “University Faculty for Life: Letter of Concern to Sen. Brownback and Congressman Weldon Re the “Human Cloning Bill 2001’” (May 27, 2001) ; written as University Faculty for Life Board Member on behalf of UFL at: http://lifeissues.net/writers/irv/irv_52weldonbrownback1.html ,
- “Analysis: Stearns’ Congressional Human Cloning Fairy Tale ‘Ban’, New Age and Transhumanist Legislation for ‘Converging Technologies’?” (Sept. 8, 2004) at: http://www.lifeissues.net/writers/irv/irv_77stearncloningtale1.html,,
- “State of Delaware human cloning ‘ban’: Loopholes form Blueprints for Human Genetic Engineering” (April 14, 2004), requested by Delaware RTL, at: http://www.lifeissues.net/writers/irvi/irvi_30delawarecloningban1.html
- Wisconsin Cloning “ban”: Why it ‘bans’ Nothing” (May, 2003), http://www.lifeissues.net/writers/irvi/irvi_08wisconsinban.html
 See Human Molecular Genetics, 2nd Edition, 1999, Strachan and Read, pp. 508-509
 See “The Carnegie Stages of Early Human Embryonic Development: Chart of all 23 Stages, and Detailed Descriptions of Carnegie States 1-6” (April 22, 2006) at http://www.lifeissues.net/writers/irv/irv_123carnegiestages2.html
 For scientific references, see Irving, “Framing the Debates on Human Cloning and Human Embryonic Stem Cells: Pluripotent vs. TOTIPOTENT” (July 23, 2005) at: http://www.lifeissues.net/writers/irv/irv_100debatecloning1.html.
 For the over 80 diseases treated with adult stem cells see http://www.corcell.com/expectant/diseases_treated.html#current.
 For a discussion of “Infertility Treatments” see Irving, “What Human Embryo? Funniest Mental Gynmastics from Medicine and Research” (Oct. 14, 2004), Presented after the White Mass sponsored by the Guild of Saint Luke, The Catholics Physicians of the Archdiocese of Boston at: http://www.lifeissues.net/writers/irv/irv_82whathumanembryo1.html.
 IVF researchers themselves acknowledge the use of cloning techniques. See http://fertilitynetwork.com/articles/articles-blastocyst.htm.
 See http://grants.nih.gov/grants/guide/notice-files/not94-092.html.
Copyright, © February, 2007
Dr. Elizabeth D. Wickham
April 30, 2007 17:00