WASHINGTON (August 24, 2006) - Reacting to a new report in the journal Nature, claiming to show an "ethical" way to obtain stem cells from human embryos, an official of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops says this study has been misrepresented in early news reports. "This experiment left no embryos alive, and solves no ethical problem," says Richard M. Doerflinger, Deputy Director of the Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Mr. Doerflinger's statement follows:
"Initial news reports have misrepresented a study published August 23 in the online version of the journal Nature. The study, conducted by researchers at Advanced Cell Technology in Worcester, Massachusetts, has been described as showing that a single cell can be obtained from an 8- to 10-celled embryo, and used to create an embryonic stem cell line without harming the original embryo. Some even speak of each child receiving his or her own "repair kit" of stem cells upon birth.
"The reality is very different. Researchers did not safely remove single cells from early embryos, but destroyed 16 embryos in a desperate effort to obtain an average of six cells from each one. This experiment left no embryos alive, and solves no ethical problem. From the resulting 91 cells, they still only managed to make two cell lines. Their study shows nothing about the safety of removing only one cell, which in fact is something they never did – partly because their own earlier experiment in mice indicated that "co-culturing" several cells together might be needed to develop a cell line.
"Even if the authors had shown that single cells obtained by "embryo biopsy" could produce a cell line, serious ethical problems would remain. When this procedure is used to do genetic testing of embryos in fertility clinics, some embryos apparently do not survive the procedure, and the long-term risks for children later born alive are unknown.
Moreover, any embryo found to have a genetic defect is thrown away – the test is done precisely to determine which embryos do not deserve a chance to live. The promise of a "repair kit" later in life rings hollow if the very children who could most benefit from a stem cell treatment will be thrown away.
"As our fellow human beings, embryonic humans should not be manipulated, harmed or used solely for possible benefit to others, even if this would not always kill them. In any event, further efforts to find a "safe" way to take cells from these embryos would surely require more experiments like this one that are clearly destructive and unethical.
"A better path, already endorsed by President Bush and an impressive bipartisan majority of Congress, is to fund avenues for discovering or creating cells with the abilities of embryonic stem cells without exploiting human embryos at all. The Catholic bishops' conference has supported this effort and looks forward to advances that are both scientifically and ethically sound."