Notes on Proposition 71
By Gerald D. Coleman, S.S.
13 September 2004
Prop 71, "The Embryo Cloning and Stem Research Bond Act,"
will appear on the November 2nd California ballot. Prop 71 proposes to
fund embryonic stem cell research with a $3 billion bond issue that will
cost taxpayers $6 billion in principal and interest.
The U.S. Catholic Bishops' Pro-Life Secretariat and the California Conference
of Catholic Bishops have weighed in strongly against Prop 71. Their main
reasons urging a NO vote are:
Drawing stem cells from an embryo always destroys the human embryo,
thus aborting human life.
From a social justice perspective, cloning embryos for the sole purpose
of killing them is unjustified and manipulative and the Prop 71 denies
funding for adult and umbilical cord blood stem cell research, while
launching the State into a costly bond issue at a time when money
is badly needed for health, education, police and fire services.
Embryonic stem cell research makes exaggerated promises of immediate
help to people suffering from a of number debilitating diseases, while
in fact adult stem cells mostly from bone marrow transplants have
already helped patients with leukemia, Parkinson's disease, spinal
cord injury and dozens of other conditions.
The rhetoric favoring embryonic stem cell research is falsely and
cruelly manipulative by suggesting that debilitating diseases will
soon be cured by the use of embryonic stem cells.
The backers of embryonic stem cell research are impressive and numerous:
e.g., the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation, the Alzheimer's Association California
Council, American Nurses Association of California, California Medical
Association, Parkinson's Action Network, American Diabetes Association,
Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, Christopher Reeve Paralysis Foundation,
the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation, a broad coalition of scientists
and physicians, and a clear majority of Americans, more then 70% of voters
according to a recent NBC/Wall Street Journal poll.
Since 1988. embryonic stem cell research is already legal in the U.S.
Dozens of groups are studying them, including a major stem cell center
recently established at Stanford University. In August 2001 President
Bush allowed federal funding using only existing stem cell lines, but
no funding for creating new stem cell lines. As Time magazine's
Charles Krauthammer has pointed out, Bush would not permit the creation
of embryos "purposely and wantonly for nothing but use by science."
(Time, August 23, pg 78) A total of roughly $12 million has been
raised to support Prop 71 that would allow embryonic stem cell research
at California Universities, Medical Schools and research facilities.
The debate over embryonic stem cell research is not a dispute between
reason (those for Prop 71) versus ignorance (those against Prop 71). Rather,
the debate concerns a serious deliberation about two values: (1) a thirst
for cures for debilitating diseases and (2) the respect for embryonic
There is need for a moral compass to guide us through these concerns.
Opposition to Prop 71 is not based on Catholic or religious beliefs.
Opposition is based on common scientific understanding that when a
sperm fertilizes an egg, forming an embryo, a new DNA comes into existence,
and human life appears. If this embryo is placed in a woman, nine
months' later there will be a baby. On Larry King Live Ron Reagan
said that stem cells are merely "a collection of cells in a petri
dish that are never, ever going to be a human being." Such an
assertion is overly simplistic: see point #2. Moral point #1: We
must be good ancestors by thinking more deeply about what it means
to be human as decisions today will affect every aspect of human life
in the future.
All human life deserves absolute respect no matter its size or sentience.
Intentional destruction of human life is always unacceptable. The
newly-formed embryo (zygote) possesses an inherent unity and potency.
As Stanford's Dr. William Hurlbut puts it, "In biology, the whole
precedes and produces the parts. It is this implicit whole,
with its inherent potency, that endows the embryo with its human character
and therefore its inviolable moral status." Moral point #2:
To interfere with an embryo's development is to transgress upon a
human life in process.
An ovum is on the threshold of human life, and when fertilized becomes
a human embryo. Stem cells from an embryo have the extraordinary capacity
to become any one of more than 200 cell types in the human body because
the cells themselves are human. The ovum has a haploid nucleus and
contains half the genetic material that, together with the other half
from sperm, constitutes the complete genome of a human being. Once
the egg and sperm are united and the DNA double helixes are raveled
and unraveled, a human being is present. Moral point #3: to take
stem cells from a fertilized egg is destruction of a new genome, and
new DNA, a new human life.
In somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT), the core of genetic material
in the center of the cell of an ovum is removed (enucleated) and replaced
with a nucleus of any type of advanced tissues (e.g., from skin, liver,
brain). When treated properly with electric shock, chemicals and hormones,
the original cell divides to the blastocyst stage, the inner cell
mass is removed, and a new stem line is established, named by some
as a clonate or a recombinant embryo. If these cells are truly embryonic,
they are multi-purpose (pluripotent) and have the capacity to differentiate
into any tissue or organ. The extracted cells contain the original
DNA of the donor. Theoretically this cell type can be used to repair
damaged or defective tissue in the donor's body without rejection
or immune reactions. Moral point #4: The blastocyst is formed by
cloning from an individual patient and the product of the cloning
is a human embryo which sustains the same moral status as a fertilized
embryo. Identifying human life only with the fertilization of an embryo
is thus narrow and incomplete.
Stem cells can come from many sources such as umbilical cords, the
placenta, amniotic fluid, adult tissue, and organs such as bone marrow.
The stem cell debate should not be reduced to an all-or-nothing ethical
issue. It is possible and even laudatory to favor these types of stem
cell removal, while not approving of stem cells from embryos, whether
the embryos are created by fertilization or by somatic cell nuclear
transfer. Moral point #5: It is possible and reasonable to fully
support research from embryonic germ cells, umbilical cord stem cells,
and adult stem cells and not support embryonic stem cell research.
This entire debate is framed in utilitarian terms of "progress,"
"cures," or a "better life." In the embryonic
stem cell controversy, human life is becoming an objective commodity.
There is now a new category cordoned off and the subject of rejection:
the human embryo. In the process of in vitro fertilization,
e.g., thousands of embryos have been frozen and are looked upon as
a "piece of property." These embryos are trapped in liquid
nitrogen. If released, however, they show themselves to be human life.
Moral point #6: Giving people false hopes is tantamount to emotional
manipulation and false advertising. A YES on Prop 71 forecloses a
careful and thoughtful dialog which is necessary in this debate, a
further conversation that must be carried out in a true spirit of
humility, respect for human life, patience, and a capacity to see
issues through the eyes of others.
Stewardship is a critical social and ethical issue. $12 million has
been amassed in support of Prop 71, whereas only $125,000 has been
contributed to fight this Proposition. Moral Point #7: How can
Californians justify $3-6 billion from the general fund to pay off
the bonds for research that may benefit a few, when the State has
7 million Californians with no health insurance coverage, and many
more millions needing education and other State and local services
to keep them alive and functional?
Read more presentations from Stem
Cells, Moral Status, and California Proposition 71.