Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

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Stem-cell ethics a hot debate

Recently, UW-Madison was thrust into the middle of a fierce ethical debate regarding embryonic stem cell research. Scientists argue for the necessity of the research being done; yet for many, the use of human embryos for anything but gestation seems inappropriate.

The Pro-Life Action League, a UW student organization, recently picketed an appearance by Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson, former governor of Wisconsin, who advocated President Bush’s decision to fund limited stem cell research.

“We weren’t really expecting to change anything,” Anna Cianciara, UW Pro-Life Action League President, said. “We were actually doing this to educate the public.”
Bush’s Aug. 9 statement, announcing that he would support federal funding of stem cell research only to currently existing stem cell lines, attempted to support science without causing too much uproar in the anti-abortion community.

Both Thompson and UW Chancellor John Wiley expressed their appreciation for Bush’s willingness to support this research to a limited degree.

“The president’s decision reflects a careful balance between ethical concerns and medical potential, and allows research to go forward under the carefully controlled conditions that are appropriate to the current state of medical knowledge,” Wiley said.

The Pro-Life Action League does not agree with stem cell research because they disagree with the destruction of any human life.

“Embryos are the beginning of life, no matter how you look at it, ” said Cianciara. “Ethically speaking, you don’t want to harm a person even if there is a purpose. Would we ever consider destroying a disabled adult for research?”
Norman Fost, Professor of Medical Science Ethics, said that these concerns overlook some of the basic facts.

“A shrinking percentage of the population has these ‘right-to-life’ concerns,” Fost said. “With these principles I would think that they would even advocate homicide charges against in-vitro fertilization clinics.”

In-vitro clinics, where UW Scientist and stem cell discoverer James Thomson originally obtained the embryos for his research, help couples get pregnant by fertilizing the female’s eggs outside of the body. Fost said that these fertilization clinics have been around for over thirty years, and that during in-vitro fertilization a certain number of surplus embryos are destroyed.

“There are almost always residual embryos,” Fost said. “We have to decide what to do with them.”

A UW Bioethics Advisory Committee looked at the possibility of stem cell research at UW in 1998, and studied the legal, social and ethical issues swarming the research. In their report, released Jan. 11, 1999, the committee found Thomson’s research was “scientifically important, has potential clinical benefits, is consistent with existing law, regulations and guidelines, is consistent with the university’s mission and its commitment to academic freedom and is supported by the mainstream of ethical opinion.”

While the pro-life debate was important, Fost said, they looked instead at ethics involving the consent of donors.

Fost said while there are some pro-life organizations with religious concerns about stem-cell research, it is important that the science continue.

“Nothing is ever entirely good,” Fost said. “Our only real problem at this point, though, is offending certain groups who do not understand that the embryo we use would have been destroyed anyway.”

Anna Cianciara and the Pro-Life Action League say it does not matter if the embryo were to be destroyed.

“Do you remember the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute?” Cianciara asked. “During the Second World War, this facility had advanced from experimenting on human placentas to experimenting on living Jews. This happened because the line between right and wrong had become so blurred over time.”

Professor Fost does not think this could happen.

“After the war came the Nuremburg trials, and with them the regulations changed,” he said. “We got a new understanding of ethical limits. In the last thirty years nothing has happened like this in the United States.”

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