Adult Stem Cell Research On Parkinson’s Deserves Support of Congress

Date: 09/28/1999

Such research shows greater promise than destructive embryonic stem cell research

ALEXANDRIA, VA–In light of recent and rapid advances in research using adult stem cells and other treatments for Parkinson’s disease, Congress should support such research while rejecting research that depends on the deliberate destruction of human embryos.

* In a dramatic advance announced in April, scientists reversed Parkinson’s symptoms in monkeys who were treated with tissue from other sections of their own brains. The new approach was far better than using fetal cells, produced 35 times as much of the key chemical–dopamine–used to treat Parkinson’s (New York Times, April 22, 1999).

* Harvard Medical School researchers say they will conduct clinical trials using adult stem cells to “re-seed” and repair human brains “within two years” (MSNBC, June 7, 1999).

* Commenting on the growing use of adult stem cells to treat Parkinson’s and other disorders, the director of neurofunctional surgery at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles says: “What we have is a protocol in which we don’t have to harvest 12 or 15 fetuses, we don’t have to give immunosuppressant therapy, and we don’t have to worry about viral disease transmission” (American Medical News, May 3, 1999).

* Because non-embryonic cells are further along in their development than embryonic cells, they are easier to adapt for treatments requiring specific types of brain cell. As one scientist says, “If you’re trying to travel from Boston to San Francisco, this would be the equivalent of starting in Des Moines instead of Boston” (Wall Street Journal, April 13, 1999).

Given these rapid advances, Congress should not rush to cross a moral Rubicon that requires deliberately destroying some in the name of possibly helping others. Research that demands the killing of live human embryos is based on a chilling utilitarian calculation that some lives may be sacrificed to the potential benefit of others. Such a calculation must not replace the most fundamental principle of the healing arts: First do no harm. Congress should reject destructive embryonic stem cell research, which is proving as unnecessary as it is unethical, and advance the very promising field of adult stem cell research.

Do No Harm: The Coalition of Americans for Research Ethics, agrees that stem cell research shows great promise in treating illnesses. The Coalition, however, rejects the deliberate destruction of human embryos. Instead we urge government support of non-embryonic stem cell research which protects the inviolability of all individuals, rejects harming some for the benefit of others, and holds as much or more promise for medical progress as destructive embryonic stem cell research.

Experts on the science and ethics of stem cell research from Do No Harm: The Coalition of Americans for Research Ethics are available for comment. To speak with them, please contact Gene Tarne or Michelle Powers at 703-684-8352.