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Nebraska bills to ban embryonic stem-cell research and cloning


By LISA SCHULTE
The Catholic Voice

The issues of cloning and embryonic stem-cell research are making their way to the forefront of discussion in the Nebraska Legislature this session as three bills are being considered that would address such procedures in Nebraska.

Greg Schleppenbach, state director of the Bishops' Pastoral Plan for Pro-Life Activities, called Legislative Bill 437, which bans the production of embryos using the cloning technique, 'a legitimate ban on human cloning," while LB 580, is a 'phony" ban because it bans the implantation of a cloned embryo into a uterus, not cloning itself. The third bill, LB 750, prohibits the use of state funds or facilities for medical research that would destroy a human embryo.

Schleppenbach said that although the fight against abortion remains a strong focus for pro-life activities, biomedical research, such as embryonic stem-cell research and cloning, is where the front lines of the pro-life battle are right now.

'Abortion involves the taking of a human life made in the image and likeness of God, but with cloning and some of this genetic manipulation of early human life that came about with in vitro fertilization, now we're talking about not only the destruction of human life, which occurs in these processes, but we're talking about the manufacturing of life in our own image. We're talking about creating or producing human life according to our specifications, according to our design," he said. 'It is significantly more serious, I think, in terms of an offense against God than even abortion."

People need to be careful of the language that is being used when discussing embryonic stem-cell research and cloning because many times it is being used to manipulate the debate, Schleppenbach said. In LB 580, no where does it use the word 'embryo." Instead the phrase 'product of nuclear transportation" is used to describe a human being, he said.

'This is a perfect example of the purposeful deception in using language to confuse people," Schleppenbach said.

CATHOLIC TEACHING

A common misconception is the Catholic Church is against stem-cell research, but that is not completely true, said Father Thomas Berg, LC, Ph.D, a priest and scientist serving as associate professor of moral philosophy at the Center for Higher Studies of the Legion of Christ in Thornwood, N.Y.

The Catholic Church is against embryonic stem-cell research because harvesting the stem cells kills the living embryo, which the church teaches is a human being, he said. Stem cell research that uses cells obtained from adult tissue, umbilical cord blood and other sources is considered morally acceptable.

It's not to say there isn't great potential with embryonic stem-cell research, Schleppenbach said.

'It's very, very possible that tremendous advances could be made with embryonic stem-cell research, but the prime issue, the most important issue is not can we do something, but should we do something. Is it right to destroy one human life to save another?"

Cloning is considered immoral because it's a depersonalized way to reproduce, Father Berg said. When done for stem cell research, it creates a human for the sole purpose of killing that person for his /her cells.

'The church has a long-standing tradition of welcoming all of the kind of scientific innovations that genuinely promote the good of the human person," he said.

The church isn't telling people to choose the lives of embryos over the lives of suffering patients, he said. It's calling for the respect for both without discrimination.

'The choice is not between science and ethics, but between science that is ethically responsible and science that is not," Father Berg said.

SUCCESSFUL ALTERNATIVES

Although embryonic stem-cell research is the most talked about form of stem-cell research, because its cells can give rise to all of the 230 different tissues in the body, there are other moral alternatives that could result in treatments and cures for diseases without the killing of human beings.

All of the human application in treatments right now is with adult stem cells or cells attained through human adult bone marrow and in the umbilical cord blood of newborns. Adult stem cells have been used to successfully treat spinal cord injury, sickle-cell anemia, heart damage, corneal damage and numerous kinds of blood disease, Father Berg said.

'Scientists are very much on the trail of stem cells that will give you every thing that supposedly embryonic stem cells would give us," he said.

LOOKING TO THE FUTURE 

Embryonic stem-cell research is fully allowed in the United States. No federal law is against it. However, the government has set limits on the number of embryonic stem cell lines eligible for federal funding and it is up to each individual state to decide its legality.

When people are at the polls or when people go to vote they have to be informed, especially since these are complicated topics, Father Berg said.

'What is at stake is that we now face the possibility as a nation to choose sacrificing a human life for the sake of therapies, for the sake of research," he said. 'Really we're talking about open season on human embryos at least during the first two weeks of their existence. The only way we're going to stop it really is by legislation. If we want a statewide complete ban on cloning for research or cloning for reproduction, that's going to happen at the voting booth."

Nebraska voters can call or contact their state senator to urge him or her to support LB 437 and LB 750, Schleppenbach said.

People can also support the Nebraska Coalition for Ethical Research, a group of medical professionals, researchers and physicians who are for science and research that never harm a human being, at www.ethicalresearch.net or by calling (402) 690-2299.

'The fact of the matter is that we are at a turning point like never before in our country where we are on the verge of legitimizing the creation of human life to be used as a means for its destruction and research," Father Berg said. 'This will be our future for better or for worse. There's no holding this back. We are entering into the age of bioengineering and this is going to open up new ethical questions every single day."

LEGISLATIVE BILLS

LB 437 bans the production of embryos using the cloning technique.

LB 580 claims to ban human cloning, but instead it only bans the implantation of it into the uterus. It allows researchers to produce manufactured cloned embryos as much as they want as long as they don't implant them in a womb and allow them to live.

LB 750 prohibits the use of state funds or facilities for medical research that would destroy a human embryo.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION:

To get educational and informational materials on stem-cell research and cloning, go to the USCCB Web site at www.usccb.org/prolife/issues/bioethic/stemcell/index.

GLOSSARY OF TERMS RELATING TO STEM CELL RESEARCH AND CLONING:

>> Adult stem cell "“ A stem cell from organs and tissues after birth (including umbilical cord and placenta) that can renew itself and transform into other specialized cell types. 

>> Embryo "“ In humans the developing organism from the time of fertilization until the end of the eighth week of gestation, when it becomes a fetus.

>> Embryonic stem cells "“ Primitive (undifferentiated) cells from the embryo that have the potential to become a wide variety of specialized cell types.

>> Human cloning "“ In human cloning, the DNA from the nucleus of a person's body cell is inserted into a human egg whose own genetic material has been removed, and the egg is then stimulated to begin embryonic development. The resulting cloned embryo would genetically be an almost identical twin to the person supplying the body cell.

>> In vitro fertilization "“ An assisted reproduction technique in which fertilization is accomplished outside the body.

>> 'Reproductive Cloning" (Live-Birth Cloning) "“ All cloning is 'reproductive" in that it creates "“ reproduces "“ a new developing organism intended to be virtually identical to the cloned subject. The term 'reproductive cloning" has been used to signify the implantation into a womb of a cloned embryo, in hope of a live birth.

>> Stem cell "“ A relatively unspecialized cell that, when it divides, can do two things; make another cell like itself, or make any of a number of cells with more specialized functions.

>> 'Therapeutic Cloning" (Research Cloning) "“ Creating a cloned embryo and growth to the blastocyst stage for the purpose of harvesting embryonic stem cells.

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