National Overview of Embryonic Stem Cell Research Programs Provided.
NAPA, Calif.—Oct. 16, 2007. The Life Legal Defense Foundation (LLDF), a national, pro-life legal organization, today reported that California’s embryonic stem cell program will fund controversial “human cloning” research. LLDF reported that California this month began selling what will total $3 billion in general obligations bonds to fund its embryonic stem cell program. With that in mind, the LLDF has issued the following overview of the situation in California and the current status of embryonic stem cell research on the national level.
“What most people may not be aware of is the fact that researchers in California have actually been given the ‘green light’ to clone living human embryos for the purpose of harvesting their embryonic stem cells,” said Dana Cody, LLDF’s Executive Director. “The important thing to remember is the process known as ‘somatic-cell nuclear-transfer.’ It is written right there in the language of Proposition 71,” said Cody. Proposition 71 was the measure passed by California voters which approved $3 billion in state bond revenue for human cloning research.
“Somatic-Cell Nuclear-Transfer, (SCNT), when using a human egg from one person and cells from another person, scientifically means cloning a live human embryo,” said Cody. She stressed that the promoters of Proposition 71 and the media have been deceptive about SCNT terminology, confusing cloning to mean only creating a cloned baby, and not creating an embryo using SCNT technology which is destined for destructive research.
Cody clarified the controversy over stem cell research. “Bone, blood, fat, umbilical cord blood, and skin cells, for example, contain stem cells, and everyone approves using these sources for stem cell research because nascent life is not destroyed,” she said. “The reason LLDF and others who value all human life oppose embryonic and human cloning research is because it requires the destruction of early embryonic life—or in the case of human cloning, the creation and then destruction of life.”
With SCNT, the process begins with an egg. The “nucleus,” which contains the DNA of the egg donor, is removed from the egg. This results in an “enucleated” egg. Next, cells containing DNA from another person, typically a skin cell, is transferred into the enucleated egg. The egg, now with new DNA, is then stimulated with a small shock to cause the cells to begin dividing. This new life begins and is almost genetically identical to the donor. This embryo will contain the controversial embryonic stem cells that will eventually be harvested from the embryo.
Although this process has yet to be successful, the idea is that after cell division continues to a certain point, the embryo, created by SCNT, would then be destroyed when the embryo’s stem cells are ready to be harvested. “In theory,” Cody states, “science wants to create ‘designer’ treatments for individual patients by creating their own clone or use the process of SCNT for further disease specific research.”
Though the federal government bans federal funding of human cloning, Cody tells us that there are no federal laws that say human cloning cannot be done using private or state funds. Five states, including California, have laws that do not allow human cloning for the purpose of initiating a pregnancy or reproductive cloning. But all these states do allow for the cloning of human embryos.
The U.S. House of Representatives has repeatedly passed a total ban on all forms of human cloning. Likewise, the United Nations has called upon all member nations to do the same. “Unfortunately,” Cody lamented, “since the U.S. Senate has been unable to pass similar legislation, human cloning is still legal in the United States.” Therefore the battle has been fought at the state level with some states banning all forms of cloning, some states banning so-called “reproductive” cloning but permitting cloning for research, and other states remaining silent on the matter.
Currently, embryonic stem cell research is legal in 10 states. Seven of these states, California, Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, New Jersey, New York and Wisconsin provide funding to their embryonic stem cell research programs, according to an article by Christine Vestal with http://stateline.org. The article reported that the total funding amount for these programs is $4.76 billion. This amount excludes an additional estimated $3 billion in bond interest that will have to be paid by California tax payers. The three remaining states, Iowa, Massachusetts and Missouri, do not provide funding, but have affirmed its legality. Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick recently proposed $1 billion for stem cell research in his state. Lawmakers in Florida and Texas are deadlocked on whether to allow the research, and debate is intensifying in Michigan over this issue. Six states, Arkansas, Indiana, Louisiana, Michigan, North Dakota and South Dakota ban the research altogether. Almost half of all states restrict the sale of fetuses or human embryos.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have said that they have the federal authority to regulate human cloning. They classify human cloning technology as an investigational new drug (IND), and that they would not at this time approve of any projects that involved human cloning because of safety reasons. But according to an article posted on the web site of the National Conference of State Legislators, “Congress has not passed any legislation confirming the FDA’s authority to prohibit (human) cloning.” Worldwide, a growing number of countries have banned human cloning. Those countries include Canada, France, Norway, and Germany. Public opinion in the U.S. is still opposed to human cloning, as well.
A reported 73 treatments have been discovered using “adult” stem cells, according to http://stemcellresearch.org, yet not a single treatment or patient benefit has been reported as a result of embryonic stem cell or human cloning research. Funds raised by the sale of bonds for California’s embryonic stem cell research program, as mandated by Proposition 71, should not include funding for “adult” stem cell research. Cody reminded us that “Proposition 71 specifically provided priority funding for under-funded areas of research, therefore, adult stem cell research, which is eligible for federal funding, will not fall within the parameters of the Proposition 71 (funding) windfall. This is unfortunate since this area of research is ethical and has already proven to be beneficial to patients in need of treatments.”
“Most importantly we oppose embryonic stem cell research because it kills a unique living human embryo. And this of course would include human cloning research—to intentionally create life for the sole purpose of destroying it! It will never be ‘okay’ to kill one human being for the benefit of another human being. The ‘ends’ do not justify the ‘means,’” said Cody. When talking about stem cell research with family or friends, Cody says it’s always important to remember to stress that it is the harvesting of “embryonic” stem cells that results in the killing of human embryos, unlike “adult” stem cell research, which does not kill the embryo.
All eyes are now on California ever since voters approved Proposition 71 which established the California Institute of Regenerative Medicine, (CIRM) and a $3 billion bond program to fund their program. “That’s a lot of money riding on nothing but empty promises,” said Cody. “Even the supporters of Proposition 71 have had to ‘back-pedal,’ restating their case on ‘if’ and ‘when’ treatments will come,” she said. Cody‘s organization raised possible “state constitutional violations” and “conflict-of-interest” issues with the state in their unsuccessful two-year legal battle to halt California’s CIRM program.
An “Independent Citizen’s Oversight Committee,” (ICOC), was established by Proposition 71 to be the governing board over the CIRM, the state’s embryonic stem cell research program. LLDF filed suit against the measure claiming that the ICOC is an entity not under the exclusive management and control of the state because Proposition 71 language did not contain sufficient state controls with regard to the spending of $3 billion dollars in general obligation bonds by the ICOC. LLDF contended that such conflicts are in violation of Article 16, Section 3 of the California State Constitution, which prohibits any entity not under the exclusive management and control of the State from disbursing and spending state funds. LLDF’s suit also alleged “conflicts of interest” due to the fact that ICOC board members voted to approve training grants totaling approximately $38.9 million to 16 institutions, eight of whom were constituent institutions or entities of the University of California.
The large imbalance of funds raised between the proponents of Proposition 71 and those groups opposed to the measure may have been a contributing factor to the measure’s passage. According to a Washington Post article, (10-25-04), backers of Proposition 71 raised approximately $24 million, and had the backing of Hollywood celebrities and the likes of the former first lady Nancy Reagan. Those groups opposed to the measure reportedly were only able to raise $200,000. Cody also said that the proponents of Proposition 71 did a good job convincing the voters that “cures were right around the corner.” She mentioned one California voter who was heard saying that she voted for Proposition 71 because her friend who was injured in a rowing accident, now a paraplegic, would be able to get a cure in a relatively few short months.
LLDF sees a great need to educate the public about embryonic stem cell research and what the CIRM program is all about. Such an “educational” campaign would not be an easy endeavor. LLDF would have an uphill battle to accurately articulate their position against a landscape of economic, journalistic and scientific deception and “half-truths” which frequently rejects moral and ethical arguments. “It’s going to take time, but with help and support from others, it can and should be done” said Cody. “Who knows,” she said, “with an ongoing educational campaign we could get the correct information out there and ideally, someone could take on a campaign initiative to repeal Proposition 71.”