Embryonic Stem Cell Research
Missouri Right to Life Policy on Research That Uses Human Embryos
Missouri Right to Life is opposed to all research using human embryos unless the research is intended to promote the health of the embryos, the research cannot instead be performed on adults, and the research entails only minimal risk of harm to the embryonic humans who are involved.
This policy statement is taken almost verbatim from the Declaration of Helsinki of the World Medical Association. See World Medical Association, “Declaration of Helsinki – Ethical Principles for Medical Research Involving Human Subjects,” paragraph 27 (1964, as amended through Oct. 22, 2008).
In the years just after the turn of this century, embryonic stem cell research (ESCR) has been touted as a source for miracle cures of many conditions and diseases. Unfortunately, under current procedures, in order to obtain the embryonic stem cells with which to conduct research, human beings are killed. In addition, some scientists may want to use living embryonic humans in other ways for research when the research will not benefit the human subjects involved.
In the area of ESCR, it is essential to distinguish between legitimate research that utilizes the somewhat inaptly-named “adult” stem cells, which are stem cells obtained from such sources as baby teeth, umbilical cord and placental blood after birth, bone marrow, ordinary fat, and other sources, and the illegitimate research that uses embryonic stem cells. The use of adult stem cells for research does not involve killing any human beings to obtain the cells, and there is no problem from a pro-life standpoint in conducting adult stem cell research. The members of Missouri Right to Life support and encourage such research, for we all rather like scientific advances and the benefits of health that they bring.
It is how embryonic stem cells are currently obtained that compels a different judgment of ESCR. Under current biological technology, the stage of development when the embryonic stem cells are most prized for research is when a human being exists as a blastocyst, just before implantation. One must keep in mind that there is no such thing as implantation of “a fertilized egg,” for between the time of fertilization in the fallopian tube and the time when the blastocyst reaches the womb for implantation, a week of development has occurred. No longer a “blob of cells” or a “mass of cells” (descriptions which new discoveries indicate are never accurate about any stage of development, anyway), the new human being has begun the processes of specialization that will lead to many different functions and structures within the body. It is already a complex organism, constantly growing and developing in a self-directed process not controlled by the mother’s body. The new human at this stage, consisting of almost 200 well-organized cells, appears as a hollow ball, on the inside of which are found the stem cells that ESCR researchers desire so greatly. To obtain the stem cells, the new human will be destroyed by being opened up so that the inner mass of embryonic stem cells may be removed. It will be just as if adults were disemboweled for their inner organs. Obtaining the human stem cells for ESCR represents nothing less than medical cannibalism. Civilized societies would not permit it.
The destruction of human embryos to obtain their stem cells is not necessary. It is the pluripotency of embryonic stem cells that makes them most desirable for scientific research. Alternative means of producing pluripotent cells have been found in recent years. The process of producing “induced pluripotent stem cells” (iPSC) shows particular promise in that regard. It reprograms, as it were, the genetic contents of ordinary (somatic) cells from the body by inserting key genes that allow the cells to act like embryonic stem cells. If the stem cells that are produced from this process or any like process are deemed to be “embryonic,” then MRL’s policy would not result in MRL’s opposing such research. It is the killing of human embryos in order to obtain embryonic stem cells that Missouri Right to Life opposes.
The abuse of living human embryos for other research purposes is also barbaric. It converts human beings from ends in and of themselves to means of achieving others’ ends. For any procedure or research upon a human being to be just and ethical, it must be directed to the good of the human subject, not to someone else’s good, and it must not cause substantial harm to the human who is involved.