The Humanitas Project


Living in the Biotech Century

News, Resources, and Commentary

September 18, 2004



A primer on the politics and the science of embryonic stem cell research…


Senseless on Stem Cells,

by Hadley Arkes


Why advocate research that destroys nascent human beings?



“Barry Goldwater remarked years ago that filling in as a ‘guest host’ for Johnny Carson was rather like jury duty: At some point almost every American would have to do it. In our own day, the equivalent may be appearing on Larry King Live. That task fell to President Bush and his wife earlier this month.


“King could not resist raising the issue of the supposed ‘ban’ on research involving stem cells while interviewing the First Couple. Of course, there has been no ban on that research; there has been only a reluctance on the part of the president and Congress to promote such research with public funds when it involves the destruction of human embryos. Larry King has rubbed shoulders with Nancy Reagan and her son Ron in taking up this cause, claiming that research on embryos will deliver other people from the Alzheimer’s disease that afflicted our late president. President Bush, bless him, spoke from his heart in conveying his concern for the ‘culture of life’ and explaining his reluctance to cross certain moral boundaries. But the conditions of speaking on Larry King Live, with compression, before a mass audience, does not exactly lend itself to extended explanations. What may be needed is a kind of five-minute account that even Larry King and Ron Reagan can understand. And so let’s try it….”


National Review Online – Posted August 23, 2004


Editor’s Note:  Professor Hadley Arkes is the architect of  the “Born-Alive Infants Protection Act” (H.R. 2175) which became law in 2002.


Perhaps the ambivalence is natural…we all know the truth about what an embryo is…


Where Do the Extra Embryos Go?



“Doctors at in vitro fertilization clinics typically create more embryos than they will use in helping about 50,000 American women try to get pregnant each year.


“A new study, published this month online by Politics and the Life Sciences, has found that in vitro fertilization, or IVF, clinics don’t simply dispose of excess embryos. Some return them to the couple to take home, some offer them up for adoption and some even hold funerals for the embryos, according to a survey performed by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania and Rutgers University.


“‘There is certainly a lot more ambivalence about what embryos are than I had ever imagined before starting this study,’ said Arthur Caplan, director of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania, and an author of the study. ‘The fact that these practices are so varied shows a lot more division even in groups that work with embryos than we might have guessed.’


“Caplan and Andrea Gurmankin, a postdoctoral fellow at the Rutgers Institute for Health, Health Care Policy and Aging Research, surveyed 217 in vitro fertilization clinics across the United States. They found that 97 percent were willing to create and cryopreserve extra embryos….”


Wired News – August 26, 2004


Please link to Politics and the Life Sciences to read the original research discussed in this article.


Shifting opinions on stem cells...but how informed are these opinions?


Stem Cells Rise in Public Opinion 



“The number of Americans who approve of embryonic stem cell research has increased from three years ago, while the number who disapprove has fallen by almost half, according to a recent Harris poll released Wednesday.


“Seventy-three percent of the people polled last month approved of the research, compared to 61 percent in 2001, the last time Harris researched the issue. The number of people who disapprove fell by almost half from 21 percent to 11 percent.


“And more people are aware of the debate: While 68 percent of people polled in 2001 had heard or read about stem cell issues, 83 percent were familiar with the subject in 2004.


“The pollsters interviewed 2,242 adults online between July 12 and July 18, 2004.


“As the report notes, stem cell research is turning out to be ‘a good issue for the Democrats.’ Sen. John Kerry (D-Massachusetts) had already guessed that before the Democratic National Convention, when Democrats mentioned the research 20 times, according to Slate’s Timothy Noah.


“‘The results of the poll indicate that journalists and scientists are doing a good job at educating the American people on the potential benefits embryonic stem cells may have. We need the support to explore the potential of these cells,’ said Jose Cibelli, a stem cell and therapeutic cloning researchers at Michigan State University.


“He added, however, that those who support stem cell research should be wary of hype.


“‘The last thing we want is to create false expectations to patients that need therapies today. … We are walking on a tightrope here,’ Cibelli said….”


Wired News – August 18, 2004


The Harris Poll (#58, August 18, 2004) which served as the basis for this article includes charts showing high levels of support for embryonic stem cell research among Republicans and conservative Christians.


Shifting opinions on stem cells have also been reported in a survey by The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.  For that information, see “Shifting Sentiment on Stem Cells” on their Surveys page.


For a helpful, though brief, discussion of how “poll design” influences poll results, link to “As Stem-Cell Debate Heats Up, Public Still Uninformed and Undecided” in Research News, published by Ohio State University.


An outstanding overview of the stem cell controversy…


Editor’s Note:  This “open letter” to Congress from 2,416 members of the Christian Medical and Dental Associations is an outstanding overview of the stem cell controversy.   It delineates the problems with embryonic stem cell research and details the promising results that have already been realized with adult stem cells.  This letter and the reference notes, which are titled “Embryonic Vs Adult Stem Cell Research,” are well-worth close study by anyone seeking to understand the challenge of embryonic stem cell research—research that would commodify nascent human life by turning embryos in to medicine.


Christian Medical and Dental Associations – July 30, 2004

(Note:  The very important link to references is in the third paragraph.)


Generating moral fog in the stem cell wars…


Stem Cells and the Reagan Legacy,

by Gilbert Meilaender



“Although it is not likely to be as significant as the war in Iraq or the economy for the November 2004 election, the issue of embryonic stem cell research seems to have political staying power. For now, the debate focuses largely on President Bush’s policy of providing federal funding for research on a limited number of embryonic stem cell lines, where the embryos in question have already been destroyed. But the stem cell debate, rightly understood, encompasses much more: Stem cell advocates see it as a referendum on scientific progress, often seeming to forget that the birth of bioethics in the twentieth century was in considerable measure a result of scientific research that seemed unwilling to recognize moral limits. Opponents of embryo research see the issue as just part of a larger question about moral limits to the drive for mastery of nature (and, even, human nature)….


“The deeper issue, which begs for analysis and critique, is the commitment to a kind of limitless war on disease. ‘We only need to try.’ Why is it that those so certain that we cannot remake the world and rid it of political ills by applying American power and technical know-how are equally certain of our ability to wage successful war on one disease after another? Why is it that those so impressed with our need to accept moral limits when waging war, and so critical of American hubris, seem tone-deaf to the possibility that moral limits might rightly be placed upon the experiments by which we wage war against illness and suffering?


“Evidently, if one knows oneself to be on the side of what is desirable and good, no moral limits need apply. Whence this confidence? ‘The tide of history is with us,’ Ron Reagan said. This, of course, is an assertion in the name of which great evil can be done. Indeed, it boggles the mind that a son of President Reagan—who set himself so firmly against what seemed to be the tide of history—should suppose that our (quite dim and uncertain) sense of where history is going should be more important than our sense of what is right or wrong, that how long we live should be more important than how we live….”


Gilbert Meilaender holds the Richard and Phyllis Duesenberg Chair in Theological Ethics at Valparaiso University and is a member of the President’s Council on Bioethics.


The New Atlantis – Summer 2004


Using tissue from deceased donors…


Cell Transplants for Diabetes Show Promise


Study: 60 percent were insulin-free a year later



“Just under 60 percent of diabetes patients who have received an experimental transplant of pancreatic cells are able to live without insulin injections a year later, Canadian and U.S. doctors reported on Tuesday.


“Researchers at 12 medical centers in the United States and Canada reported on 86 patients with type 1 diabetes in the first annual report of the Collaborative Islet Transplant Registry….”


Reuters/MSNBC – September 8, 2004


The report used in this article and a more detailed press release are both available from The Collaborative Islet Transplant Registry.


When the “two-minute mind” becomes the “thirty-second” mind…


What's to Blame for the Rise in ADHD?


 Researchers point fingers at TV, genetics, over-diagnosis



“Some scientists say watching TV could lead to an increased risk for ADHD, while others argue that genetics and other factors play a bigger role in the development of the disorder.


“When most of today’s parents were growing up, the common wisdom about television viewing was not to sit too close to the screen or you’d go blind. There was relatively little in the way of children’s programming: Sesame Street, which turned 35 this year, was in its infancy and there were a few cartoons, as well as Captain Kangaroo, Mr. Rogers and Romper Room.


“How times have changed. In the years since then, children’s programming has exploded. Now whole networks are devoted to young viewers.


“And, interestingly enough, something else has exploded: Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, or ADHD, a behavior condition that now affects from 4 percent to 12 percent of U.S. children. ADHD is characterized by the inability to focus, listen, and complete tasks and schoolwork. Many children are medicated to control the condition….”


MSNBC Sept. 8, 2004


A press release describing the research discussed in this article can be found at the web site of Children's Hospital and Regional Medical Center, Seattle, Washington.


Original publication of the research was in PEDIATRICS (Vol. 113 No. 4 April 2004):  “Early Television Exposure and Subsequent Attentional Problems in Children.”


Once the slippery slope has been greased…


Now They Want to Euthanize Children,

by Wesley J. Smith


In the Netherlands, 31 percent of pediatricians have killed infants. A fifth of these killings were done without the "consent" of parents. Going Dutch has never been so horrible.



“First, Dutch euthanasia advocates said that patient killing will be limited to the competent, terminally ill who ask for it. Then, when doctors began euthanizing patients who clearly were not terminally ill, sweat not, they soothed: medicalized killing will be limited to competent people with incurable illnesses or disabilities. Then, when doctors began killing patients who were depressed but not physically ill, not to worry, they told us: only competent depressed people whose desire to commit suicide is ‘rational’ will have their deaths facilitated. Then, when doctors began killing incompetent people, such as those with Alzheimer’s, it’s all under control, they crooned: non-voluntary killing will be limited to patients who would have asked for it if they were competent.


“And now they want to euthanize children….”


The Weekly Standard – September 13, 2004


On September 8, Reuters carried a story from Brussels on a move there to euthanize children:  “Belgium Considers Euthanasia for Children.”


More promising results using adult stem cells…


Bold New World for Bald Mice 



“Hairless mice of the world, rejoice. Scientists have found a way to grow new hair follicles on your bald bodies using stem cells.


“The study could be good news not just for furless mice. The Howard Hughes Medical Institute researchers who performed the study are also hoping the stem cells will grow hair, as well as skin and sebaceous glands, in humans.


“The study, which was published in the Sept. 3 issue of Cell, showed that stem cells taken from the hair follicles of mice could self-renew in a dish, and when grafted onto mice could grow into new follicles and hair.


“‘We are now looking at whether we can isolate human cells with the same procedure,’ said Dr. Cedric Blanpain, a postdoctoral fellow at Rockefeller University who is an author of the paper. ‘If that is the case, it’s promising for humans.’


“Besides replacing hair, the discovery could lead to better skin grafts for burn victims, since grafts now can't grow hair or sebaceous glands….”


Wired News – September 3, 2004


The technical paper referenced above, “Self-Renewal, Multipotency, and the Existence of Two Cell Populations within an Epithelial Stem Cell Niche,” is available online in the September 3 issue of Cell.


The disease of the century…


Essay:  The Human Face of Alzheimer’s,

by Colleen Carroll Campbell



“The loss [of a friend or family member to Alzheimer’s] is hard because, beneath our modern, dualistic tendency to value mind over matter, we still believe the body counts. And despite our culture’s insistence that the human person is defined by rationality and autonomy, we have an inchoate sense that the truth is more complicated than that. The tension between our public rhetoric and our private experience, between our reverence for reason and our attraction to the mysteries beyond its reach, simmers just below the surface of our national conversations about science, healthcare, and aging. We usually succeed in keeping that tension under wraps, and keeping our focus on how modern medicine and biotechnology can help us avoid disease and death. But every once in awhile, we face a situation that forces us to collectively consider what it means to be human persons who grow old, suffer, and die.


“The looming Alzheimer’s epidemic is just such a situation. This disease embodies everything we fear most about aging—weakness and dependence, humiliation and oblivion. Its insidious onset and relentless progression have penetrated our collective consciousness, and nearly half of Americans over the age of 35 know someone personally whose brain has been ravaged by it. As Americans are living longer and more physicians are recognizing dementia as a disease to be diagnosed, Alzheimer’s is claiming more victims. Some 4.5 million Americans suffer from Alzheimer’s today, more than double the number who had the disease in 1980. Alzheimer’s has become the eighth-leading cause of death in America, and its impact is expected to mushroom as 77 million Baby Boomers head into retirement. By 2050, if no cure is found, 16 million Americans could have Alzheimer’s. As they bid their long goodbye—Alzheimer’s can take up to 20 years to run its devastating course—we will no longer be able to ignore the human questions raised by this disease. Such questions, about the basis of our human dignity and our identity as persons, cannot be answered by science or technology. We must grapple with them the old-fashioned way, drawing on both reflection and lived experience to find the meaning in this way of dying….”


The New Atlantis – Summer 2004


Worth considering…



“[T]he century immediately behind us constitutes a sobering reminder that freedom is capable of annihilating itself; this occurs when human freedom is no longer tethered to moral principle….


“[W]hen moral vision fails, the door is open for the totalitarian option.  This ‘option,’ it needs to be stressed, requires preparation—preparation that is facilitated by a reconfiguration of the way people think about life and death, moral agency and personhood.  What sort of world our children and our children’s children inherit is inextricably linked to this reconfiguration.  For this reason, one cannot overestimate the nature of what is at stake in current ethical debates as well as the importance of present and future Christian involvement in the public square.  Western societies, highly secularized though they are, still retain humane features.  Yet…our position is morally precarious, for good customs and habits need a spiritual base; if such a base is lacking they will gradually—or perhaps suddenly, in some crisis—disappear.  To what extent are we now living on moral savings accumulated over many centuries but no longer being replenished?


“Only a half-century removed, we Westerners—and we Americans, in particular—seem to have forgotten a most disturbing fact of recent history:  moral atrocity, couched in medical and scientific justification, is the end result of the encroachment on ethics that implants itself  in the realm of medical science.  Consequently, we are increasingly comfortable with speaking of ‘death with dignity,’ ‘compassionate release’ and ‘merciful exit preference’ for those we deem ‘no longer worthy of life itself.’  This utilitarian strain of thinking, perhaps dormant for several brief decades, would appear to have emerged once more in full force….”



The Unformed Conscience of Evangelicalism:  Recovering the Church’s Moral Vision, by J. Daryl Charles (InterVarsity Press, 2002).  Excerpt is from the Epilogue, pp. 246-247.




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