[Note: Republican Majority Leader (and potential 2008 presidential candidate) Bill Frist recently gave a speech in which he urged President Bush to modify his policy on federal funding for embryonic stem-cell research by providing funding for research that uses embryos that have been discarded by women who undergo in-vitro fertilization ("IVF"). His main argument is that embryonic stem cells are "pluripotent" (have the ability to become all sorts of different kinds of cells), so they are a more promising avenue of research than adult stem cells, and that embryos that are left over from IVF will never be implanted in a womb and thus will never develop into a full-grown human being (this post on FreeRepublic.com includes the full text of Frist's speech: http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-news/1453072/posts?page=28#28). I disagree with Senator Frist's conclusions, and have sent him the following letter, which I now make public.]
Dear Senator Frist:
While I find your approach to federal funding for embryonic stem-cell research appealing on many levels, I ultimately must reject it. Even if you are correct in that the embryos in question will never be implanted in the womb and will surely be destroyed, and even if a process is put in place that eliminated any possibility of fertility doctors getting compensated for providing discarded embryos to research facilities (since otherwise fertility doctors would have an incentive to recommend to women seeking in-vitro fertilization that they have even more eggs fertilized than the high number that are currently fertilized under IVF), and even if the mother and father of the embryo had to consent to their unborn baby’s destruction in the name of research and were never paid a dime for their consent, it would still be the intentional taking of an innocent human life.
As a society that purports to live by Judeo-Christian ethics, we do not carry out potentially fatal medical experiments on death-row inmates, even though they will surely die anyhow, and getting the informed consent of the inmate's parents wouldn't make it any less unethical. For the same reason, I don't think we should intentionally kill an innocent human being in the name of scientific research.
I had the chance to read the full text of the prepared statement that you made before the Senate. In your speech, you mentioned several promising areas of stem-cell research that do not require the destruction of embryos, and we should concentrate our efforts on those areas. If you are correct in that scientists believe that adult stem cells may be "reprogrammed" to become "pluripotent" and thus able to become any kind of human cell, this is an approach that should be encouraged, but if researchers can use embyonic stem cells that do not require any "reprogramming" (and are thus cheaper), no one will spend a dime on developing the technology required to make adult stem cells pluripotent. The same is true for the possible development of pluripotent cells from cells found in the amnion of placentas saved during childbirth; such research would become “unnecessarily expensive” if the federal government is already providing funding for stem-cell research that uses embryonic stem cells available for free.
Senator Frist, please rethink your current position on the federal funding of embryonic stem-cell research. There are millions of conservative Republicans who are unwilling to support a presidential candidate that supports the intentional killing of unborn children, and your policy on federal funding of embryonic stem-cell research not only would result in the exploitation of human embryos, but would also create a disincentive for promising research on stem cells that could become pluripotent through the wonders of modern science.
Very truly yours,