The Forgotten Bill in the Stem Cell Storm
To begin, here is a short description of the three bills being considered by the U.S. Senate this week:
- The first bill, the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act (H.R. 810 & S. 471), would provide funding for the destruction of human embryos. Such research has been condemned by the Church because it involves the deliberate killing of innocent human life and therefore no more argument is needed from me (others have done the work and continue to do so courageously). This bill should be voted against. President Bush has promised to veto it when it passes the Senate (as it is expected to do). This is the bill that has been receiving the greatest share of media attention.
- The second bill, the Fetus Farming Prohibition Act (S. 2504), makes it a federal offense to produce human embryos for the express purpose of obtaining tissues and other biological material. This bill should be voted for and President Bush is expected to allow it to pass, as is the Senate.
- The third and final bill, the Alternative Pluripotent Stem Cell Therapies Enhancement Act (S. 2754), is the one I will be discussing. I believe the bill should be voted against and will try to briefly explain why. President Bush is expected to allow this bill to pass.
Why should S. 2754 be opposed? Simply put, this bill gives permission for the use of the ANT/OAR procedure, which I and others believe (for reasons explained or footnoted below) actually produces impaired human embryos – human beings – that will then be destroyed for their pluripotent stem cells.
The American Life League has issued their own statement which outlines some of the ethical problems of this bill:
"The Alternative Pluripotent Stem Cell Therapies Enhancement Act (S. 2754) is supposed to spare human embryos from abuse, but we oppose this bill because it allows for a technique that would actually create and then kill human embryos," said American Life League president Judie Brown…
The scientific facts are behind American Life League's opposition to S. 2754.
Using the reference to the President's Council on Bioethics in S. 2754 means that the bill allows for altered nuclear transfer/oocyte assisted reprogramming (ANT/OAR), which is a variation on the cloning technique called somatic cell nuclear transfer or SCNT.
"If the protocol is used with human cells, it would create disabled human embryos who would be killed for their stem cells."
" ... Since ANT/OAR could be used to promote the creation and killing of disabled human embryos ..." Brown concluded, "we urge senators to defend the sanctity and dignity of the human being by voting against the Alternative Pluripotent Stem Cell Therapies Enhancement Act (S. 2754)."
The ALL is right to have come to this position regarding the ethical nature of the ANT/OAR procedure. I’d like to now fill in the backstory for how this position has been reached by the ALL and other philosophers and moral theologians.
A debate has previously taken place over the last months in the journals of Communio (led by David Schindler of the JP2 Institute in Washington, D.C.) and the National Catholic Bioethics Quarterly on this exact question concerning the ANT/OAR procedure. David Delaney of the C-L-S blog has covered this debate in-depth in a series of posts, and I would highly recommend reading what he and Communio have written to understand the progression of scholarly and professional thinking on ANT/OAR.
Having read the arguments of both sides of this debate (to the tune of several hundred pages of material), I agree with the ALL that ANT/OAR is, if not positively proven to be unethical, at the very least still riddled with serious enough questions to oppose its implementation in human trials. Two essays which discuss the reasons why ANT/OAR is unethical can be found here (briefly) and here (more completely).
A simple one-sentence summary of the problem with ANT/OAR is that it is nothing more than a hybrid form of the SCNT procedure (consisting in the donation of the genetic material from one cell into a female egg cell that then sets itself into development) which is the cloning of new human life. This new human life is then destroyed for its pluripotent stem cells.
An added argument to my opposition to ANT/OAR is that it requires the hyperovulation of women to provide the necessary female egg cells (a procedure that also raises ethical reservations among competent moral theologians).
Why am I taking my time to voice my opposition to S. 2754? Because the “catholic position” on this issue is hardly unanimous. Prominent figures in politics and the Catholic hierarchy have supported ANT/OAR, including Robert P. George and Cardinal Keeler [alternate source]. The list of other prominent supporters, frankly, goes on and on. It is in this atmosphere of overall support that President Bush’s ethical advisors have given ANT/OAR the green light.
Joe Scheidler of the Pro-Life Action League, however, opposes S. 2754. He has been quoted by LifeSiteNews as saying, “I don’t want my tax money supporting something until it is absolutely clear that they are not harming life.”
Scheidler and the ALL are not alone: there is (I would claim) a growing consensus among the academic community of bioethicists, moral theologians and philosophers that the overall objections to be made against the procedure are significant enough to give pause to legal authorization. This consensus, however, has only been reached recently after intense debate, and the fruits of that debate (namely, the revealed flaws in ANT/OAR) have not yet been disseminated widely into the public square or, I would speculate, onto the radar of Bush’s ethical advisers.
As I have said at the beginning of this article, President Bush has promised (correctly) to veto the first bill I mention in this article. He is also expected to allow (correctly) the second bill I mention. However, it also appears that he will allow (I claim, wrongly) the third bill – S. 2754 that involves permission for the ANT/OAR procedure to continue.
If S. 2754 passes into law, human testing will eventually commence. I believe, from my survey of the evidence provided by both sides of the debate, that ANT/OAR will result in the creation of human embryos – human beings, that will then be killed.
It is my hope and prayer that S. 2754, which would permit the production and destruction of early human life, will receive more attention and opposition as a result of this article. Otherwise it will become the forgotten bill in the Stem Cell Storm which threatens the most innocents.
Update: An edited version of this article has been posted here at Spero News.
Update 2: S. 2754 was passed by the U.S. Senate today 100-0. It will now be voted on by the House of Representatives later today, with President Bush signing it into law as early as Wednedsay. You can read more from the associated press here.