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LIFE DIGEST: Embryonic stem cell research suffers another setback; British hospital disposes of babies in trash incinerator

WASHINGTON (BP)–Devastating flaws continue to afflict embryonic stem cell research.

Researchers recently reported that experimentation showed the use of nerve cells derived from human embryonic stem cells clearly reduced Parkinson’s disease-like symptoms in rats, but the therapy also produced tumors in the rodents’ brains.

“The behavioral data validate the utility of the approach. But it also raises a cautionary flag and says we are not ready for prime time yet,” said Steven Goldman, leader of the research team and a professor at the University of Rochester (N.Y.) Medical Center, according to The Washington Post.

Goldman told The Globe and Mail, a Toronto newspaper, “Some folks are portraying this as imminently useful, and it’s not. There’s still a lot that has to be sorted out.”

The development of tumors has been an ongoing problem in animal experimentation using embryonic stem cells. One of the results has been that though many scientists contend embryonic stem cells have more therapeutic potential than their non-embryonic counterparts, ESCR has yet to reach the stage of human trials.

For pro-life advocates, the main reason for opposing ESCR is its destructive character. Extracting stem cells from human embryos destroys the tiny human beings in the early days after their lives begin.

Unlike research using embryos, extracting stem cells from non-embryonic sources -– such as umbilical cord blood, placentas, fat and bone marrow -– does not harm the donor and has produced treatments for at least 72 ailments in human beings, according to Do No Harm, a coalition promoting ethics in research. These include spinal cord injuries, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, multiple sclerosis and sickle cell anemia. Non-embryonic stem cells sometimes are called “adult” stem cells.

Stem cells are the body’s master cells that can develop into tissues and other cells, providing hope for the treatment of numerous afflictions.

The latest setback follows by only a few weeks a draft report by the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine that said there may be no cures available even after 10 years and $3 billion in state-approved bond funding for embryonic stem cell research.

The report from Goldman’s research team was published in the Oct. 23 issue of the journal Nature Medicine.

BURNING BABIES -– A leading British hospital has acknowledged it burns aborted babies in the same incinerator used to dispose of its trash and waste.

Addenbrooke’s Hospital, located in Cambridge, announced it could no longer afford to use the Cambridge City Crematorium to dispose of the bodies of aborted children, according to the Daily Mail, an English newspaper.

A hospital spokeswoman said the babies were not incinerated at the same time as rubbish, the Daily Mail reported. She also said a white sheet is hung over the front of the incinerator and two specialists in bereavement care observe when the babies are disposed of, according to the newspaper.

Those provisions did not appear to satisfy British pro-life advocates, as well as some women who have had abortions at the hospital and some church leaders.

Pro-life organizations said the practice is not illegal but violates the spirit of nursing guidelines that say fetal disposal with waste is “completely unacceptable.”

“What absolute horror,” said Lisa Wilson of the ProLife Alliance, the Daily Mail reported. “Has our society lost even a minimum concept of the humanity of the unborn child and the respect due to these tiny victims of our ruthless legislation?”

A woman who had an abortion at Addenbrooke’s and asked she not be identified told the newspaper, “I am furious and very hurt. Imagine my horror when I discovered that my baby was incinerated in the same furnace as the hospital rubbish.”

TOTAL BAN PASSED -– The Nicaraguan legislature voted Oct. 26 to prohibit all abortions in the Central American country, including ones to save the life of the mother.

President Enrique Bolanos has yet to sign the bill into law.

Currently, Nicaragua’s law allows an exception for abortion if three doctors confirm the procedure is needed to protect a woman’s health. A congressional supporter of the new measure said the exception in the current law had permitted a woman who desired an abortion to talk physicians into citing her health as the reason for the procedure, according to the Associated Press.

If the legislation becomes law, Nicaragua will join Chile and El Salvador as Latin American countries with comprehensive abortion bans, AP reported.

The bill passed without dissent, with 52 legislators voting for it, nine abstaining and 29 absent, according to AP.