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Proposal On Stem Cell Research and Therapeutic Cloning

A. Legislation is advocated to reverse current administration policy and permit and encourage federal and state funding for research on stem cells derived from surplus embryos produced, via in vitro fertilization, which would otherwise be destroyed. Informed consent of the donors of the embryos would be required.

B. In addition, we strongly advocate research into the risks and benefits of human cloning for therapeutic purposes.

Discussion: Human embryonic stem cells are derived from fertilized embryos, less than one week old. In the course of development, these cells would later differentiate into the various cells and organs of the human body. In tissue culture, these cells are capable of prolonged undifferentiated proliferation and yet maintain the ability to develop into virtually every different cell type including neural, gut, muscle, blood, bone and cartilage.

Research in adult stem cells is important and should be encouraged but, at present, these cells, have less potential benefit than embryonic stem cells. In addition, stem cells are abundant in the blood that is present in the umbilical cord. They are predominantly in the blood-bone marrow formation line but can be coaxed into forming other tissue cell types as well. How many is not yet known. They are subject to immune rejection if given to another individual. Banking of umbilical cord blood should be encouraged. It is currently being used to restore the bone marrow of patients undergoing chemotherapy and may have other future uses as research progresses.

There are those who hold strong moral objections to the use of embryonic stem cells in both research and therapy. They maintain that an embryo is a human being from the time of conception. But if that embryo is the means to obtaining life saving knowledge about the effect of drugs on various tissues, increased knowledge about cell and organ differentiation, and possible prevention of birth defects and cancer, production of tissues to repair damaged or diseased organs, and knowledge about the mechanisms of immune rejection, is this not a worthwhile end for a human life, especially when the life of these embryos would, otherwise, unquestionably be terminated by the IVF center, according to the parents' wishes? The New York Society for Ethical Culture maintains that it is.

Therapeutic cloning, which would allow the production of tissues to repair or replace all or parts of organs that were damaged or diseased, would be of tremendous benefit. A person with diabetes lacks an adequate number of pancreatic islet cells to make enough insulin to meet the needs of his or her body. After a heart attack, there may be so much muscle damage that the remaining healthy heart muscle is insufficient and the patient will die in heart failure. Tissue or organ transplantation from a donor risks rejection unless difficult and sometimes dangerous techniques are used to suppress the immune system's rejection process. For a patient in a weakened condition, this could be a significant problem.

In regard reproductive cloning, it is so misunderstood that a period of public education and discourse is recommended.

Contributor: Dr. Charles H. Debrovner. A longer paper, including a fuller discussion of reproductive cloning, is available upon request.