What Do 30 Pieces of Silver Buy You Today?

by The Center for Bioethics and Culture on September 22, 2010

By Jennifer Lahl, CBC PresidentI’m just back from Washington, D.C., where I had the privilege of showing Eggsploitation on Capitol Hill.  Senator Tom Coburn, M.D. (R-OK), served as our congressional sponsor for this event, and I’m grateful to him and his staff for their leadership in this arena.  As an Ob/Gyn doctor, Coburn understands the risks associated with egg harvesting practices.  He’s not one in need of conversion on the matter. And he’s with us on the human embryonic stem cell research and human cloning debates.Serendipitously, Senator Tom Harkin, (D-IA) hosted a hearing on embryonic  stem cell research the very same day as our film premiere.  I was fortunate enough to attend this hearing with Elaine Petty, a Director of the CBC, and my colleague, William Hurlbut, a former member of the Bush Council on Bioethics.If you are interested in the hearing, the webcast of the testimonies can be watched on the Senate website.  Otherwise, let me break it down for you.First, there was nothing new under the sun presented.  Senator Harkin opened the hearing with his own remarks on what a shame it was that after 21 hearings on embryonic  stem cell research beginning in 1998, we had to revisit this issue again now that science, under the Obama administration, was able to proceed ethically and responsibly.  And how he thought this fight was finally over.  And now our bright young minds have to worry about going to their labs only to find the doors locked by someone in Washington, D.C.There was enough high-fiving and back-patting to tear a rotator cuff.  Harkin praising Senator Arlen Specter  for his leadership; Francis Collins praising both senators for their leadership in advancing embryonic stem cell research; and Senator Specter in his final senatorial act, singing his swan song about the promise and hope of embryonic stem cell research, even had the audacity to say this, “The evidence is overwhelming of the importance of embryonic stem cell research to deal with the maladies of the world . . . and there are over 400,000 frozen embryos that will be lost . . . we are not dealing with human life . . . if it were to be turned into human life, no one would suggest that we use them for medical research.”  I had to listen to that one again on the webcast.  Sitting in the hearing room, I was shocked at that statement — he didn’t just say what I think I heard?  Yes, he did.  We are not dealing with human life!?!Senator Roger Wicker (co-author of the 1995 Dickey-Wicker Amendment) spoke first. He reminded the senators of the purpose and importance of this amendment.

  1. Destruction of human embryos and cloning of human embryos are profoundly moral and ethical problems.
  2. Federal government should not fund this type of research.
  3. We have limited federal dollars available for all health research.
  4. Human embryonic stem cell research should be funded with non-taxpayer funds.

Then came the usual cast of characters in such hearings, all invited to speak on the current state of the scientific research.  Jean Peduzzi-Nelson (in the fair and balanced, one against three panel format) argued for more funding of adult stem cell research, where promising studies need to be moved into clinical trials so that patient benefits could be actualized where progress is already being made. Those who offered perspectives in favor of embryonic stem cell research said that human embryonic stem cell research remains the gold standard against which all other forms of stem cell research need to be measured (adult, induced pluripotent stem cells, etc.).  And that embryonic stem cell research, if not able to provide patient treatments, would be helpful in biological findings and understanding.But the greatest disappointment came when Dr. Francis Collins, Director of the National Institutes of Health, testified.  He began by saying that today there is a cloud over research, and then went on to make three predictions of what would happen if human embryonic stem cell research was put on hold and not funded by the federal government.  He predicted that:

  • Scientists would become disillusioned.
  • We would lose our best talent to countries with permissive laws.
  • Patients would lose hope.

My heart sank, and I was sick to my stomach as I watched and listened to one more politicized mockery of justice taking place.  What is most needed is a hearing on the ethics of this research.  Dr. Collins didn’t have to do this.  He could have injected thoughtful commentary on the Dickey-Wicker Amendment which has passed year after year because of bi-partisan concerns about the moral and ethical issues of funding such research.  He could have reminded the committee that even James Thomson, who discovered embryonic stem cells, said, “If human embryonic stem cell research does not make you at least a little bit uncomfortable, you have not thought about it enough.” But instead, the poster boy for the man of science and faith made a pact with the devil.

The Latest Stem Cell News, from the Los Angeles Times

The University of California Seeks to Intervene in Court Battle over Stem Cell ResearchThe University of California has entered the legal battle surrounding the use of human embryonic stem cells in research, filing a motion formally seeking to intervene in the case, officials announced Monday.UC is trying to become the nation’s first research university to become a party in the high-profile case challenging federal funding for the research. UC, which wants to defend the research, is the largest recipient of National Institutes of Health funding and conducts significant lab work in those areas.Last month, a federal judge blocked the federal government from funding embryonic stem cell research, saying it violated a law intended to prevent the destruction of human embryos. An appeals court this month temporarily lifted the preliminary injunction, although uncertainty remains, with the matter expected to go to trial.In a federal court motion, UC said its “interests are significant and significantly affected” by the preliminary injunction and said the university, its students and scientists would lose many fellowships if the ban is upheld.It also stressed the potential loss of research to help treat heart, lung and blood diseases, along with “other genetic disorders too numerous to list.”

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