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Who's the Victor in the Stem Cell Debate?
August 7, 2001

By James L. Hirsen, J.D., Ph.D.
contributor to

There's another disinformation campaign going on. This one involves the overly hyped, under-defined decision on embryonic stem cell research.

Through use of some time-tested favorites - selective reporting, emotional manipulation and distortion of facts - Americans are now sufficiently confused. The public has been treated to a hefty serving of mistaken assumptions, but the essential truth has yet to be adequately presented.

Emotional images have been wielded in an effort to get people to believe that the question under consideration is whether or not any stem cell medical research should take place in our country. But the real question at hand is whether or not tax dollars should be lifted from the wallets of hard working Americans to fund a very narrow and speculative type of research that involves the dissection of human embryos.

Yes, these are the same human embryos that contain all of the latent characteristics of a fully formed human being, as demonstrated by the human genome project. But that information aside, present law does nothing to prevent advocates of such stem cell research to continue their activities uninhibited. They just have to enlist private funds to support their work rather than grabbing federal tax dollars.

Proponents of human embryo research want the public to believe that their approach is the only game in town. The truth is, this type of stem cell experimentation is not even in the game yet at all.

The most promising research, and the only research that has been conducted on human beings, has utilized non-embryonic stem cells, such as those stem cells from bone marrow, blood, hair follicles and fat. Non-embryonic stem cells, taken from an adult human and inserted into the same human, actually seem to have a built-in advantage to their use because the risk of tissue rejection by the body appears to be eliminated.

An almost unlimited source of non-adult stem cells can be found in placentas and umbilical cords from live births. These cells do not have the emotional and philosophical baggage associated with human embryonic cells.

Another innovative and less controversial step has been taken overseas, where a British company is experimenting with ways to use a skin cell from an adult and return it to its embryonic state.

With options such as these available, why would anyone debate whether tax money should be used for a type of research that so many Americans find morally, philosophically and theologically repugnant? The question raises the uncomfortable specter that a pro-abortion agenda may lurk beneath the humanitarian veneer. The discussion should be focused on directing dollars toward less violative and more reliable kinds of experimentation.

Embryonic stem cell research and cloning came to a pivotal intersection in recently proposed legislation. An alternative to a House ban on human cloning, which was sponsored by Rep. James Greenwood of Pennsylvania, would have allowed the creation of cloned human embryos to be used for research. The concept of human cloning generally evokes a visceral, negative response in people, and when the two issues were bound together, the House decisively rejected the Greenwood proposal.

The rejection of research with cloned human stem cells should provide President Bush with a glimpse of what is at stake in his pending decision. Bush recently spoke about the subject and the juxtaposition of science and morality. The president would be wise to heed the warning of Aldous Huxley: When science meets morality, morality must be the victor.

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James L. Hirsen, J.D., Ph.D.

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