Members and supporters of TAMR believe we have a duty to tell the truth and base all judgments on accurate information that is as complete as humanly possible. For those reasons, we believe that good and proper moral beliefs must be based on sound evidence, especially regarding vital questions such as those implicit to SCNT: good ethics is based on good science. Misleading and deceitful information and opinions must therefore be exposed, but always in the interests of promoting the truth and providing sound guides for our actions. For these reasons, we have consulted with and engaged highly reputed biomedical scientists to aid us in charting our course and addressing the critical issues.
Question: Is ‘embryonic stem cell research morally wrong’?
Our response: Pluripotent stem cell research is sometimes called ‘embryonic’ stem cell research, but that label and the attacks based on it are seriously misleading. Pluripotent stem cell research is designed to save lives by creating healthy new human cells and tissues; it, therefore, has ‘therapeutic’ potential. Scientifically, the tiny dividing cell clusters involved are microscopic collections or 100-200 cells; since they emerge without fertilization, and with no trajectory toward (and, thus, prior to) implantation, they are not ‘babies’ or ‘fetuses’ or ‘human beings’. Somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT) utilizes nuclei from non-reproductive cells in order to transfer the entire complement of chromosomes to an enucleated egg. SCNT is strongly supported by medical organizations and disease advocacy groups such as the American Medical Association, Association of American Medical Colleges, National Health Council, National Coalition for Cancer Research, Christopher Reeve Paralysis Foundation, Juvenile Diabetes Foundation, the American Diabetes Association, the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology and 40 Nobel Laureates. In the past, misinformation and scare tactics have led some people to oppose the development of other lifesaving medical technologies that are now saving millions of lives, such as x-rays, in vitro fertilization and vaccinations.
Question: But aren’t embryonic cell clusters potentially human beings, and, therefore, isn’t utilizing such biological materials for research immoral, playing God?
Our response: After the male sperm has penetrated the membrane of the female ovum, the process called ‘fertilization’ is then begun. Fertilization normally occurs in the uterus. The fertilized ovum must implant itself in the uterine lining in order to become viable. A fertilized ovum that does not implant has lost the ‘potential’ to become a human fetus. Thus, the concept of ‘potential’ must be taken in tandem with implantation, for otherwise it loses its meaning. The blastocyst derived from somatic cell nuclear transfer has been used in animals, although not successfully in primates, to produce animal clones.
The intent of SCNT research concerns solely unfertilized cell clusters with no implantation; hence, it is not research involving a “potential human being”. Therefore, as we pursue the truth, we must not overstate the possibility that an SCNT blastocyst could be implanted by rogue scientists. This process, that is, the implantation of the blastocyst is what, we have insisted, should be regulated, legislated and criminalized.
Question: Still, aren’t the reasons for rejecting stem cell research the same as those against abortion?
Our response: No; the term, “abortion,” applies to fetuses, not to cells or cell clusters. In fact, these cell clusters do not begin to assemble for formation of the neural tube until the 16th day. It can be argued that this is the time at which a unique and sentient being begins to develop. It is, in fact, important to take advantage of these cell clusters between 5-7 days, while they maintain their optimal pluripotency. It is our position that there are overwhelming ethical constraints that preclude any reproductive cloning attempts. Indeed, it is not only possible to object to abortion and, at the same time, to support stem cell research to save lives, but the reasons for both constitute the strongest pro-family, pro-life position. The reasons a couple might even consider abortion for instance, to preclude a fatal genetic disorder are surely excellent reasons for supporting stem cell research that is intended and designed to correct that disorder. Also, earlier research has already helped to circumvent a not uncommon problem many couples face infertility and even correct other problems, such as in utero surgery for spina bifida. Behind most diagnostic and therapeutic efforts for life before birth is the very research we strongly support for its promise of helping children and adults suffering from diabetes, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, spinal cord injury and many others. In fact, we all want to save as many lives as possible, and go to great lengths to do that for cancer, heart disease and others. We support the same principle: that it is our proper moral duty to relieve the pain and suffering of others an aim which is widely, even universally, shared and is the strongest pro-life position. This is the stance of the American Medical Association and the Texas Medical Association.
Question: If stem cell research is permitted, doesn’t this mean that research will inevitably “slide” down a “slippery slope,” ending by doing genuine evil?
Our response: To support research on some cell clusters or ‘pre-embryos’ by no means justifies permitting it for all. The misnomer, “slippery slope”, derives from the attempt to generalize from specific cases to the general, i.e., “give them an inch and they’ll take a mile”, which need not be the case in SCNT because regulation and criminalization can be imposed at a very specific point in the process (see the diagram) and well before a sentient human embryo has developed.
Therefore, the “slippery slope” is not a valid argument. To approve one kind of action does not imply that all actions leading to an unsavory or untenable one should be either approved or banned. Rather, every proposal for research must always be subjected to careful ethical, as well as scientific, scrutiny on its own.
Question: Even so, isn’t SCNT really the same as cloning human babies?
Our response: Absolutely not, and we reject any effort to clone a human baby, and support laws that would criminalize such efforts. We support only stem cell research, designed to attempt to treat sick and injured children and adults. This type of research, moreover, is not the same as cloning a human baby because it does not involve implantation of the resulting blastocysts. It is morally imperative to be very clear about the difference, and to resist all efforts to confuse this issue: sound ethics is based on sound science, but also on being very knowledgeable about such vital matters.