The Human Embryonic Stem Cell Project

In the past several months, there has been a flurry of announcements about the progression of research into human stem cells. Stem cells are those precursor cells from which all 210 different kinds of human tissue originate. Researchers hope that these cells can provide new treatments for everything from Alzheimer's disease to diabetes to heart disease. There are hopeful signs that stem cells may present solutions to previously unsolvable medical problems.

There are two types of stem cells that researchers are investigating. First, there are stem cells which are derived from existing tissue in the adult body. Second, there are stem cells that are harvested from human embryos, killing the embryo in the process. Adult cells are more specialized than embryonic cells and presumably have the ability to develop into fewer types of tissue. Although embryonic stem cells would seem to have greater promise for treating a broader range of disease, evidence of this is inconclusive. It may be that a number of different kinds of adult stem cells can achieve the same ends that embryonic stem cells can. Moreover, because adult stem cells are further developed than embryonic stem cells, attempts to use adult cells to produce needed tissues may likely be more successful in the near term. It's like only needing to travel to Los Angeles from St. Louis instead of from Boston.

However, even if human embryonic stem cells were to be found more useful than adult stem cells for future medical treatment, people should oppose that research whenever a human embryo is destroyed in the process. The utilitarian thinking underlying this research is what led to Nazi experimentation during World War II and U.S. Government radiation experiments during the Cold War. Yet, even with this recent history, the Department of Health and Human Services stands poised to release research grants to researchers who will study human embryonic stem cells.

Seventy U.S. Congressmen and seven Senators have written to the Department of Health and Human Services opposing this grant proposal. The Center for Bioethics & Human Dignity and various other organizations and individuals have begun the Human Embryonic Stem Cell Project to educate the public about this research, advocate the prohibition of public funding of it, work toward the outlawing of the practice, and encourage constructive alternatives. There are better ways to achieve the desired medical benefits