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New Embryonic Stem Cell Study Smoke and Mirrors Says Bioethicist

Contact: Matthew Eppinette, The Center for Bioethics and Human Dignity, 847-507-2822,


CHICAGO, Aug. 24 /Standard Newswire/ -- Bioethics professor C. Ben Mitchell says that a Massachusetts laboratory’s claim to have developed a new way to derive embryonic stem cells without harming embryos is just “ethical smoke and mirrors.”


Advance Cell Technology (ACT) of Worcester, Massachusetts published an article in the science journal Nature on Wednesday, August 23, 2006, purporting that they had let an embryo grow to the 8- to10-cell stage, extracted cells, and cultivated some of those cells into stem cell lines, without destroying the embryo.


The study does not really show what it claims to show. “There are huge unresolved ethical problems here,” says Mitchell, associate professor of bioethics at Trinity International University in North-suburban Chicago.


The method of extracting cells from the embryo is similar to the procedure used for preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD), which has ethical problems of its own. The long-term effects of removing a cell or cells from an early embryo are unknown; it is likely some embryos will not even survive the procedure. In addition, it is widely believed that a single cell of a very early embryo may be capable of becoming a new embryo itself.


“Using healthy embryos in research that could harm them is not morally justifiable,” declares Mitchell. “Life threatening experiments should only be done by consent or, in the case of children, with parents’ consent and only where the experiment might benefit the child. These embryos had nothing to gain by being used like laboratory rats.” According to the paper, at least 16 human embryos were killed in the process of developing the technique.


Last May, when discussing the use of this technique to derive stem cells, the President’s Council on Bioethics unanimously agreed: “We find this proposal to be ethically unacceptable in humans . . . we should not impose risks on living embryos destined to become children for the sake of getting stem cells for research.”


The Center for Bioethics and Human Dignity maintains that stem cell research does not require the destruction of human embryos. To date, there are over 70 therapies benefiting human patients (and more than 500 clinical trials underway) using stem cells from non-controversial sources such as bone marrow and umbilical cord blood.


“Why scientists do not invest more time, energy, and resources in researching these non-controversial sources probably has more to do with economics than anything else,” says Mitchell. “Follow the money.”


The Center for Bioethics and Human Dignity is a 501 (c)(3) non-profit organization. CBHD recognizes that developments in healthcare and biotechnology create amazing opportunities as well as serious threats to human dignity, and to human life itself. The Center brings biblical-Christian perspectives to bear on current and emerging bioethical challenges, by developing cutting-edge critiques and constructive alternatives to meet the real human needs involved.


Contact: For Interviews with Professor C. Ben Mitchell, Ph.D. or Other Center Personnel: Matthew Eppinette - 847-507-2822 or