21 Mar Madison bishop with stem-cell views elected to national ethics group
Madison Bishop Robert Morlino has been elected chairman of the board of the National Catholic Bioethics Center, which discusses issues such as stem-cell research.
Morlino told The Capital Times in Madison that the destruction of a human embryo is always morally wrong, and that research on embryonic stem cells should stop.
Embryonic stem-cell research involves taking the cells initially from embryos, after which the cell cultures can be grown almost indefinitely in the lab. When President Bush restricted federally funded institutions to doing research on stem-cell cultures that had been established before August 9, 2001, he did so at least in part to prevent more embryos from being used.
So the University of Wisconsin-Madison, for example, which as a public university receives plenty of federal funding, cannot create new human embryonic stem-cell cultures.
But the university has James Thomson. The WiCell Research Institute, at which he is scientific director, owns five of the federally acceptable cultures. Because Thomson was the first to isolate the cells and make them viable for long-term lab work, the university has a time advantage.
Institutions that do not use federal funding can still create new lines of embryonic stem cells. That’s one of the aims of California’s $3 billion in bond funding for the research. Wisconsin officials are so far unsure whether the Wisconsin Institute for Discovery, a public-private partnership to be built on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus, will fall under federal restrictions.
As stem-cell proponents point out, the embryos are extras taken from fertility clinics and will be destroyed anyway, regardless of whether they are used for their stem cells. Nevertheless the research has become a hot-button issue in the larger disagreement over when life begins.
Another side to the debate is whether stem cells taken from adult tissues have more potential than embryonic cells.
Embryonic stem cells can be induced to become any type of cell in the human body. Adult stem cells have become more specialized and can become only certain kinds. But adult cells are more accessible, bypassing certain moral issues and – perhaps more pressingly – tight federal funding restrictions.
Morlino said embryonic stem-cell research should be given up in favor of research on cells taken from adults.
Some researchers such as Thomson are also studying how embryonic stem cells work so that they can “regress” adult cells and make them more flexible.