Cord Blood Stem Cells Touted as Ethical Alternative to Embryonic

Recently-approved cord blood stem cell legislation is drawing praise from Christian bioethicists and pro-life groups that say it promotes an ethical alternative to controversy-laden embryonic stem cell research, recently dealt a setback by a falsification scandal involving a top South Korean researcher.

The Center for Bioethics and Human Dignity, which has existed since 1993 to place a Christian perspective in biological research, expressed approval on Friday for recent legislation that will facilitate the collection of cord blood stem cells without controversy over the destruction of embryos. Recently, along with the President's bill, cord blood stem cells received a boost when Wisconsin’s governor signed similar legislation

"We are elated by news of these two significant pieces of legislation," said CBHD President, Dr. Andrew Fergusson, "as they recognize that science continues to yield treatments and cures without ethical compromise. Embryonic stem cell research is unethical and there are no clinically applicable results foreseeable."

Cord blood stem cells, along with adult stem cells, already have many applications for treating diseases in contrast with embryonic stem cell research, which has been roundly criticized by Christian bioethicists as being morally objectionable. Embryonic stem cell research involves the destruction of embryos, which is seen by some as the equivalent of abortion.

Since the research began in 1998, however, no cures have been found.

The ethical opposition to embryonic stem cell research has not dissuaded some from continuing to seek solutions for Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and diabetes along with other presently untreatable ailments. Many have attributed the lack of progress in the field to lack of federal funds. President Bush, for ethical reasons, has promised to veto any embryonic stem cell appropriations bill that comes to his desk.

In recent years, many American scientists have bemoaned the fact that they were falling behind other nations such as South Korea, which had announced major scientific discoveries. They said that foreign governments’ lack of restrictive ethical requirements for embryonic stem cell research had paved the way for advances that were providing hope for terminally ill patients.

However as recent discoveries have found, such fears may have been misplaced, as a top South Korean researcher and his team, credited for making breakthrough studies in stem cell genetic matching and the first cloned human embryo, are facing controversy.

Dr. Hwang Woo-suk – who has just stepped down from his post at Seoul National University following declarations from school investigators that he fabricated stem cell genetic matching research – has been at the center of the controversy.

Predicting great potential after several announcements of significant advances in embryonic stem cell research and human cloning, government officials in South Korea showered the researcher with funds. However in recent months, allegations of ethical breaches on the part of Hwang’s research team, such as paying junior assistants for egg donations, have been confirmed and admitted to.

Some say the misconduct scandal is attracting attention to long neglected ethical considerations.

"It is not just Dr. Hwang's dishonesty that casts a black eye on the field of embryonic stem cell science," said the Rev. Tadeusz Pacholczyk, director of education for the National Catholic Bioethics Center in Philadelphia, according to the Globe, "It is also the other researchers in this field, and the other promoters of this renegade branch of science, who have been downplaying the very grave ethical concerns for much too long."

While considering the stem cell developments overseas a setback, some feel that embryonic stem cell researchers in United States and the United Kingdom will continue with their efforts unabated.

"All of these groups are going to take a deep breath and work harder," said Dr. Robert Goldstein, chief scientist at the New York-based Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, according to the Boston Globe. His organization funds embryonic stem cell research around the world.

"I would not underestimate the technical prowess and intellectual ability of the groups at Harvard and elsewhere."