Skip to content

Stem Cell Options

Bioethics Council Ponders 4 Proposals

WASHINGTON, D.C., MAY 23, 2005 (Zenit) - On May 10 the President's Council on Bioethics presented a report looking on alternative sources of stem cells. Entitled "Alternative Sources of Human Pluripotent Stem Cells," the report explains that human embryonic stem cells are of great interest because of their pluripotency, that is, their capacity to give rise to the various specialized cells of the body. Nevertheless, many people reject the use of such cells, given that they cannot be obtained without destroying embryos.

The council, established by President George Bush in 2001 to advise him on bioethical issues, looked at other ways of obtaining stem cells and proposed four possibilities: stem cells from dead embryos; from living embryos, by non-destructive biopsy; from bioengineered embryolike artifacts; and from reprogrammed adult somatic cells.

The report stipulates that it is only a preliminary study, noting that more research is needed regarding the scientific viability of the alternatives. In addition, "more discussion is surely required on some of the ethical issues we have identified."

Really dead?

The first proposal makes an analogy with the use of human cadavers for biomedical research or as sources of organs. Similarly, stem cells from early in-vitro fertilization embryos that have spontaneously died could be used for the benefit of others. The concept of death for the early-stage human embryo would be the irreversible loss of the capacity for continued cellular division and growth.

In most cases this cessation of development is associated with chromosomal abnormalities in the developing embryos. But some of them have cells that appear normal, and that may turn out to be a source of embryonic stem cells. The proposal contemplates using already-frozen IVF embryos, which would be thawed and examined for viability, so as to avoid putting other embryos at risk.

In general, this looks ethically acceptable, the Council on Bioethics states, insofar as it is based on the use of cells from embryos that die naturally. However, the report adds, "the final ethical assessment of this proposal will depend very much on exactly how it is implemented."

The report does, however, raise some doubts. Concerning the definition of death, the problem is that, as the harvested cells are to serve as a source of stem cells, it is not feasible to wait for the death of each and every cell before declaring the embryo dead and, hence, eligible for use in research. Therefore, the question arises as to whether the embryo is really dead. Identifying the criteria for death of an organism at such an early stage of life as this is not easy, the council warns.

Extraction from the living

In the second proposal, stem cells are to be derived by means of a biopsy of an early human embryo. Already, the study notes, extractions are made from living IVF embryos to conduct pre-implantation genetic diagnosis.

Here, the council observes, the major ethical issue concerns the question of possible harm to the still-living embryo whose cells are removed. Moreover, since the extraction is not being performed for the good of the embryo, it might be hard to justify the procedure.

Another objection arises from the possibility that some may want to use this method, not only on embryos to be transferred to a woman, but also on "spare" embryos not selected for implantation. Because of the still-unknown risk of harm due to a biopsy, the bioethics council notes that some have suggested that the procedure can be ethically done only on an embryo that is not going to become a child. This in turn leads to objections from those who consider such a utilitarian treatment of embryos to be morally unacceptable, the report notes.

Biological artifacts

The third approach involves several proposals that contemplate engineering "biological artifacts." So far, these projects are untested, even on animals. One of these proposals, presented to the bioethics council last December, involves a variation on techniques used in cloning.

In cloning, a somatic cell nucleus is introduced into an oocyte (egg cell) whose own nucleus has been removed. The proposal involves modifying the somatic cell nucleus before its transfer, in such a way that the result, while being a source of pluripotent stem cells, would lack the essential attributes and capacities of a human embryo.

In favor of this proposal is the argument that no embryo creation or destruction is involved. But, the council comments, critics of the idea are worried that "the proposed biological artifact has, from the beginning, a built-in genetic defect that prevents it from developing normally." So rather than being the production of a non-human entity, it may involve "the deliberate creation of a doomed or disabled human embryo."

A further ethical objection arises that this technique, like cloning, requires a large supply of egg cells. Obtaining these requires hormonal stimulation and superovulation in the women who would be donating or selling their eggs. In addition to the medical risks, there are concerns over the exploitation of poor women, and the creation of markets in human reproductive tissues.

Other concerns arise from setting a precedent in manipulating human tissues. "Once we start down the road of deliberately engineering artificial entities with some human properties, it is not obvious how bright ethical boundaries between the acceptable and the unacceptable can be drawn," notes the report.


The fourth proposal considered by the bioethics council involves reprogramming somatic cells so as to restore to them the pluripotency of embryonic stem cells. This does not involve using embryos, and the report affirms, should not be ethically objectionable. The only possible problem would arise if the reprogramming went beyond the point of achieving pluripotency to the point of yielding a totipotent cell -- in effect, a cloned human zygote.

The main difficulty with this proposal, the council continues, is scientific. Research into the question of this modification of cells is at a preliminary stage, and it is too early to know whether it can succeed.


The council concludes that the second and third proposals are ethically unacceptable. The first, using cells from dead embryos, it judges to be acceptable, though the procedure raises serious ethical questions. The last proposal is found to be ethically unproblematic, if it ever becomes scientifically possible.

Council members split over the ethical judgments. In a final section of the report, Michael Gazzaniga declared his support for the use of human embryos, and even cloning, to provide stem cells.

A joint statement by Robert George, Mary Ann Glendon and Alfonso Gómez-Lobo supports efforts "to identify means of obtaining human pluripotent stem cells for biomedical research that do not involve killing or harming human embryos and do not invite the exploitation of women to obtain ova."

Their declaration supported the fourth proposal as the best long-term solution. But they added that further research and ethical reflection on all the alternatives are welcome.

So far, the Catholic Church has not reacted officially to the council's report. The U.S. bishops' conference did, however, publish on May 16 the results of an opinion poll that found 52% opposed to federal funding of embryonic stem cell research.

"It is always wrong for government to promote the destruction of innocent human life," said Richard Doerflinger, deputy director of the bishops' Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities. The debate will continue as the U.S. House of Representatives now considers a bill to provide government funding for embryonic stem-cell research.


Catholic Online CA, US
Catholic Online - Publisher, 661 869-1000



Stem Cell, US, embryonic, Human, Research, Bioethics

More Catholic PRWire

Showing 1 - 50 of 4,718

A Recession Antidote
Randy Hain

Monaco & The Vatican: Monaco's Grace Kelly Exhibit to Rome--A Review of Monegasque-Holy See Diplomatic History
Dna. Maria St. Catherine Sharpe, t.o.s.m., T.O.SS.T.

The Why of Jesus' Death: A Pauline Perspective
Jerom Paul

A Royal Betrayal: Catholic Monaco Liberalizes Abortion
Dna. Maria St.Catherine De Grace Sharpe, t.o.s.m., T.O.SS.T.

Embrace every moment as sacred time
Mary Regina Morrell

My Dad
JoMarie Grinkiewicz

Letting go is simple wisdom with divine potential
Mary Regina Morrell

Father Lombardi's Address on Catholic Media
Catholic Online

Pope's Words to Pontifical Latin American College
Catholic Online

Prelate: Genetics Needs a Conscience
Catholic Online

State Aid for Catholic Schools: Help or Hindrance?
Catholic Online

Scorsese Planning Movie on Japanese Martyrs
Catholic Online

2 Nuns Kidnapped in Kenya Set Free
Catholic Online

Holy See-Israel Negotiation Moves Forward
Catholic Online

Franchising to Evangelize
Catholic Online

Catholics Decry Anti-Christianity in Israel
Catholic Online

Pope and Gordon Brown Meet About Development Aid
Catholic Online

Pontiff Backs Latin America's Continental Mission
Catholic Online

Cardinal Warns Against Anti-Catholic Education
Catholic Online

Full Circle
Robert Gieb

Three words to a deeper faith
Paul Sposite

Relections for Lent 2009
chris anthony

Wisdom lies beyond the surface of life
Mary Regina Morrell

World Food Program Director on Lent
Catholic Online

Moral Clarity

Pope's Lenten Message for 2009
Catholic Online

A Prayer for Monaco: Remembering the Faith Legacy of Prince Rainier III & Princess Grace and Contemplating the Moral Challenges of Prince Albert II
Dna. Maria St. Catherine Sharpe

Keeping a Lid on Permissiveness
Sally Connolly

Glimpse of Me
Sarah Reinhard

The 3 stages of life
Michele Szekely

Sex and the Married Woman
Cheryl Dickow

A Catholic Woman Returns to the Church
Cheryl Dickow

Modernity & Morality
Dan Shea

Just a Minute
Sarah Reinhard

Catholic identity ... triumphant reemergence!
Hugh McNichol

Edging God Out
Paul Sposite

Burying a St. Joseph Statue
Cheryl Dickow

George Bush Speaks on Papal Visit
Catholic Online

Sometimes moving forward means moving the canoe
Mary Regina Morrell

Action Changes Things: Teaching our Kids about Community Service
Lisa Hendey

Easter... A Way of Life
Paul Spoisite

Papal initiative...peace and harmony!
Hugh McNichol

Proclaim the mysteries of the Resurrection!
Hugh McNichol

Jerusalem Patriarch's Easter Message
Catholic Online

Good Friday Sermon of Father Cantalamessa
Catholic Online

Papal Address at the End of the Way of the Cross
Catholic Online

Cardinal Zen's Meditations for Via Crucis
Catholic Online

Interview With Vatican Aide on Jewish-Catholic Relations
Catholic Online

Pope Benedict XVI On the Easter Triduum
Catholic Online

Holy Saturday...anticipation!
Hugh McNichol

Never Miss any Updates!

Stay up to date with the latest news, information, and special offers.

Learn about Catholic world

Catholic Online
Inform - Inspire - Ignite

Catholic Online Saints
Your saints explained

Catholic Online Prayers
Prayers for every need

Catholic Online Bible
Complete bible online

Catholic Online News
Your news Catholic eye

Daily Reading
Today's bible reading

Lent / Easter
Death & resurrection of Jesus

Advent / Christmas
Birth of Jesus

Rest of Catholic Online
All Catholic world we offer

Products and services we offer

Catholic Online Shopping
Catholic medals, gifts & books

The California Network
Inspiring streaming service

Advertise on Catholic Online
Your ads on

Catholic Online Email
Email with Catholic feel

Catholic Online Singles
Safe, secure Catholic dating

The California Studios
World-class post production service

Learn the Catholic way

Catholic Online School
Free Catholic education for all

Student Classes
K-12 & Adult Education Classes

School Teachers
Teacher lesson plans & resources

Support Free Education
Tax deductible support Free education

Connect with us online

Catholic Online on Facebook
Catholic social network

Catholic Online on Twitter
Catholic Tweets

Catholic Online on YouTube
Enjoy our videos

Catholic Online on Instagram
Shared Catholic moments

Catholic Online on Pinterest
Catholic ideas style inspiration

Catholic Online Logo

Copyright 2018 Catholic Online. All materials contained on this site, whether written, audible or visual are the exclusive property of Catholic Online and are protected under U.S. and International copyright laws, © Copyright 2018 Catholic Online. Any unauthorized use, without prior written consent of Catholic Online is strictly forbidden and prohibited.