Last Updated: Tuesday - 01/04/2011
August 27, 2001
Local stem cell research has ethicists' approval
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER
EDMONTON — Collecting stem cells from the umbilical cord blood is not only medically promising, it also does not violate the sacredness of human life, say two local Catholic ethicists.
Father Mark Miller and Rebecca Davis-Matthias say there is a substantial moral difference between getting stem cells from embryos or getting them from the umbilical cords of newborn babies.
"With the embryonic process, you have to destroy the embryo in order to get the stem cell," Miller, director of the Redemptorist Ethics Consul-tancy, told the WCR. "Basically what you are doing is destroying a human life, which is unacceptable for the Catholic Church."
"I think (stem cells from cord blood) is a tremendous innovation and I think it holds the most exciting promise because it releases us from a different types of moral divide," Davis-Matthias, a bioethics professor from St. Joseph College, said in a separate interview.
"This type of access to stem cells is plentiful as we have 8,000 births each year in Alberta alone," she said.
The U.S. bishops Aug. 9 denounced President George W. Bush's plan to provide federal funding for existing stem-cell lines taken from embryos.
Some medical researchers say embryonic stem cells provide hope for treating diseases such as diabetes, Parkinson's disease and some forms of leukemia.
But one Edmonton scientist is already using blood from umbilical cords for therapeutic purposes.
Dr. John Akabutu, a University of Alberta professor of pediatrics, has set up the Alberta Cord Blood Bank (ACBB) to supply stem cells for use mainly in treating leukemia in children.
ACBB, Canada's only public cord blood bank collects, processes and freezes blood remaining in the umbilical cord after the birth of a baby.
Stem cells from cord blood is most often used to treat children suffering from cancers where either the disease itself impairs the child's ability to produce blood or cancer treatment damages the blood supply.
Miller said the Church has no objection to the use of stem cells from cord blood because it does not involve the destruction of human life.
Davis-Matthias said that while research using embryonic stem cells is currently at square one, research using stem cells from umbilical cords and placentas is already well underway.
"What disturbs me the most is that they are destroying
embryos while there is potentiality for scientific advancement with the umbilical process," she said.
The WCR could not reach Akabutu for comment. But he told the Calgary Herald, "The era of using cells as therapeutic agents is here and cord blood is definitely going to play a big role in that."
Akabutu said transplantation is the first use of these novel cells. The prospects are good that they will be used for gene therapy to convey missing information into the cells of humans.
The process of retrieving stem cells from cord blood and transplanting them into donors is expensive, but the Edmonton bank does not charge donors or recipients. It relies on government funding and personal donations.
Expectant mothers who did not have any family history of blood disorder can donate. They are encouraged to register before the 34th week of pregnancy.
For more information call 780-492-2673 or visit www.acbb.ca.
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