News Articles

LIFE DIGEST: New stem cell research encouraging but problematic; researchers find new use for aborted babies

WASHINGTON (BP)–The latest stem cell news from Harvard University is encouraging but not without its ethical problems, two pro-life bioethicists say.

It was reported Aug. 22 that Harvard scientists have transformed skin cells into embryonic-like stem cells without destroying human embryos. The researchers used embryonic stem cells to convert a skin cell and give it the properties of an embryonic stem cell. Though the research can be done with stem cells allowed under President Bush’s 2001 policy, it still involves using tissue from an embryo that has been destroyed.

“It’s encouraging to me that some scientists ‘get it’ — in other words, they realize that the majority of Americans oppose destroying embryos for research and harvesting lots of human eggs,” David Prentice of the Family Research Council said, according to CitizenLink, a news service of Focus on the Family. “One of the ingredients they started with is a human embryonic stem cell — which had to come from destroying a human embryo. So they still have a way to go before they can say this is ethical research.”

According to CitizenLink, Carrie Gordon Earll, senior analyst for Focus on the Family Action, said, “The fact that researchers are even looking at this is evidence of pro-life voices in the culture. If pro-lifers had not been challenging the use of human embryos in research, we wouldn’t see this type of study being done.”

Both Prentice and Earll said researchers should be focusing their efforts on non-embryonic stem cells, which have produced treatments for at least 65 maladies. Extraction of non-embryonic stem cells -– which are procured from such sources as bone marrow, fat and umbilical cord blood — does not normally harm the donor. The extraction of stem cells from an embryo, however, destroys the tiny human being. In addition, embryonic stem cell research has not produced a treatment for any human disease.

The report of the Harvard experiments followed quickly on two other findings. A team of Texas and British researchers revealed they have generated what appear to be embryonic stem cells from umbilical cord blood, according to an Aug. 19 report. University of Pittsburgh scientists said they have discovered embryonic-like stem cells in the placenta, it was reported Aug. 5.

One of the major traits of these cells and embryonic stem cells is elasticity, the ability to change into other cells and tissues.

Bush’s policy allows federal funding for research only on embryonic stem cell lines already in existence prior to his August 2001 announcement barring funds for all other stem cell experimentation on embryos. The federal government provides grants for non-embryonic research.

Some members of Congress are seeking to liberalize the Bush rule. The House of Representatives has approved the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act, H.R. 810, which would provide federal funds for experimentation using embryos that are in storage at in vitro fertilization clinics and are donated by the parents. The Senate is expected to vote on the measure after it reconvenes Sept. 6. Bush has promised to veto the bill if it reaches his desk.

TINY TISSUE DONORS? — Oh the things that can be done with unborn babies -– as long as one is prepared to kill them.

If destroying embryos for their stem cells and for the benefit of others were not enough, it now has been reported that skin cells from an aborted baby healed burns of eight children quicker than normal grafts.

Swiss researchers found a 2 1/2–inch patch of skin from a baby who was aborted at 14 weeks gestation provided “several million” grafts to treat burns, according to HealthDay, a daily news service reporting on consumer health. The child’s mother provided written permission for the experiment, according to the report.

The report by physicians at the University of Lausanne appeared online in the Aug. 18 edition of The Lancet, HealthDay reported.

The use of fetal skin has “tremendous potential, because taking just one skin graft gives you the potential to treat thousands of people,” said Patrick Hohlfeld, prime author of the study, according to HealthDay.

Hohlfeld said he doubted the procedure’s huge potential would eliminate some people’s opposition to using cells from an aborted baby, The Washington Post reported.

As Hohlfeld assumed, that fact does nothing to change his opposition, said R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, on his weblog.

“Are we ready to turn aborted fetuses into organ and tissue donors?” Mohler asked. “Is this just the next step of logic accepted and championed by the Culture of Death?”

SAVED IN HOUSTON -– While unborn babies are being killed to help others in some parts of the world, a Houston doctor recently performed first-of-its-kind fetal surgery to save the life of a child.

Oluyinka Olutoye, a pediatric surgeon, performed an operation on Garrett Jorgensen July 29 in a successful effort to save him from a tumor that had filled two-thirds of his chest cavity three weeks before he was due to be born, according to the Associated Press. The tumor had pushed Garrett’s failing heart to the opposite side of his chest, restricted his lungs so they would not have expanded after birth and filled his stomach with fluid, AP reported.

Olutoye started the surgery at Texas Center for Fetal Surgery while the infant was still in the womb of Ellen Jorgensen, 37, a first-time mother. Garrett’s head and right arm were partially delivered before the tumor was brought outside his chest, enabling his lungs to expand, according to AP. The doctors then delivered Garrett, and the tumor was removed after he was placed in another room, AP reported.

“It is just incredible to think doctors can do that,” Ellen Jorgensen said Aug. 18, according to AP. “It was very emotional, but a true blessing. And now he has got all of his tubes out and we get to hold him every day and spoil him rotten and cuddle with him -– the whole deal.”

REFUSAL TO FUND ABORTION UPHELD -– The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Aug. 18 the federal government does not have to pay for an abortion for a serviceman’s wife.

A three-judge panel unanimously decided a federal law that bars funds for military abortions does not provide an exception when the unborn child has an abnormality. The congressional measure allows government-funded abortions only when “the life of the mother would be endangered if the fetus were carried to term.”

The case, Doe v. United States of America, involved the unidentified wife of a Navy enlisted man. Their unborn baby was diagnosed with anencephaly, a fatal condition in which the child does not have a forebrain or cerebrum. She had an abortion, and the University of Washington Medical Center sought payment under the military insurance program. Payment was declined. A federal judge ordered the government to fund the abortion, however.

The Ninth Circuit panel said a Supreme Court decision upholding the federal Hyde amendment controlled their reasoning in this case. With few exceptions, the Hyde amendment prohibits Medicaid funds from being used to pay for abortions.

The appellate judges expressed their “deepest sympathy for the families who must face this difficult ordeal” but said they “remain confident, however, that the law commands” a reversal of the lower court.

PAIN PREVENTION -– Minnesota has become the second state to require abortion doctors to offer to women considering a late-term abortion a form of pain relief for their unborn child.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty, a Republican, signed the Unborn Child Pain Prevention Act into law in mid-July, enabling Minnesota to join Arkansas as the only states with such a law, LifeNews.com reported. The measure applies to women who are more than 20 weeks into their pregnancy, providing information on the pain experienced by an unborn baby of that age during an abortion and offering anesthesia if they decide to undergo the procedure.

Similar federal legislation, the Unborn Child Pain Awareness Act, S. 51 and H.R. 356, has been introduced in Congress.