Month Archives: February 2010

NIH Redefines Embryonic Stem Cells

by David Prentice

February 23, 2010

Last Friday the National Institutes of Health announced that they were proposing a “technical change” in their Guidelines for destruction of human embryos, a.k.a. Guidelines for Human Embryonic Stem Cell Research.

The change would allow use of younger human embryos in experiments. As published today in the Federal Register, the change in definition for embryonic stem cells would be:

For the purpose of these Guidelines, “human embryonic stem cells (hESCs)” are cells that are derived from the inner cell mass of blastocyst stage human embryos pluripotent cells that are derived from early stage human embryos, up to and including the blastocyst stage, are capable of dividing without differentiating for a prolonged period in culture, and are known to develop into cells and tissues of the three primary germ layers.

You can submit comments on this proposed change. Note that the deadline for comments is 11:59pm EST on March 24, 2010 (a 30-day comment period.) Apparently NIH doesn’t want to read a lot of critiques—comments are limited to 6,000 characters, including spaces. It remains to be seen whether NIH will ignore the majority of comments as it did for the initial guidelines.

This expands the unethical use of human embryos, and creates additional incentives to cannibalize more embryos. Stating that the guidelines are “ethical” simply puts a veneer on unethical practices; they are simply providing a recipe for human embryo destruction so that taxpayers funds can be used to reward the scientists.

The redefinition of “embryonic stem cells” is primarily for the benefit of the company Advanced Cell Technology (ACT), so that they can qualify for taxpayer funding. ACT had previously submitted seven hESC lines for approval (an eighth was added after the announcement Friday), and intends to submit at least one more hESC line. At least four of their lines were derived by removing a blastomere (one of the cells of an early embryo), supposedly leaving the remainder of the embryo intact. They term these lines NED (“no embryo destruction”).

The designation is dubious. Robert Lanza of ACT first published their derivation of hESC lines from a single blastomere in 2006, and Lanza stated at that time “What we have done, for the first time, is to actually create human embryonic stem cells without destroying the embryo itself.” But buried in the paper was the fact that all of the embryos used in the experiments had actually been destroyed. The misleading statements led to publication of a corrected paper and and addendum to “clarify” the data.

In a subsequent publication in 2008, Lanza said “If we base this on objective scientific criteria, there’s no evidence that removing a single blastomere harms the embryo.” But even in this paper, Lanza’s own data show that not all embryos survived unharmed—the paper notes that only 80-85% of the embryos developed further to the blastocyst stage. Story Landis, head of the National Institutes of Health Stem Cell Task Force and director of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders, told the Hartford Courant, “There needs to be definitive scientific evidence that no harm was done to the embryo.” Landis pointed out that women undergoing in-vitro fertilization who had cells extracted from an embryo for genetic testing had lower rates of pregnancy than women who were implanted with embryos that had not undergone the technique.

The whole question of PGD (preimplantation genetic diagnosis) on which Lanza bases his theory has been called into question in terms of possible embryo harm. A study in 2007 in the New England Journal of Medicine indicated that such a technique harms embryos, resulting in lower pregnancy rates. In 2007, the American Society for Reproductive Medicine recommended against PGD for any condition, based on the data that there was possible harm to embryos. Other papers in 2008 by a Belgian group and a Dutch group showed similar results, and a recent review makes the same point.

The question of not just destruction but possible harm to the embryo affects potential funding of the ACT technique. The Dickey-Wicker amendment prohibits federal funding of embryo experiments in which there is a “risk of injury or death” to the embryo.

Did ACT actually create new embryos for harvest and destruction, by removing one cell from the early embryo? The question is also important for possible taxpayer funding of experiments with the NED lines, because NIH’s own guidelines state that

Research using hESCs derived from other sources, including somatic cell nuclear transfer, parthenogenesis, and/or IVF embryos created for research purposes, is not eligible for NIH funding.”

It’s been shown that a four-cell human embryo can be disaggregated and each of the four cells can individually form a complete new embryo. The newly-created human embryos from this embryo-splitting technique have been used for derivation of embryonic stem cells. It’s unclear whether the cells of an eight-cell human embryo also retain totipotency (the ability to form a complete new embryo), but experiments with mice suggest that at the 8-cell stage and even perhaps the 16-cell stage, the cells may retain that ability. If that were the case for human embryos, Lanza’s technique may have first created a new embryo with his biopsy method, then destroyed it in the process of forcing it to become a new hESC line. This would contravene the NIH guidelines.

The redefinition is also a move by NIH to cover their nether parts, as they had previously approved three hESC lines from George Daley of Harvard that were actually created from human embryos that had not yet reached the blastocyst stage. NIH has put those lines on Hold for now, until they can rush through the redefinition. But the proposed new language would again expose more human embryos to risk of destruction. Some could even be defined as “abnormal” or “unable to develop”, making them targets for destruction. Note such definitions are usually based on eyeball assessments that have previously been shown as flawed.

But perhaps more than anything, this redefinition illustrates the willingness of NIH to change the rules to fit their desires for more embryos. Expect more abuses in the future.

Obamas Aggressive Use of Executive Power, pt. 2

by Chris Gacek

February 22, 2010

Last week I posted a blog on President Obamas decision to aggressively use executive power to implement his agenda in areas where his legislative agenda seems unlikely to succeed. Todays Washington Times editorializes on this topic (Obama the Philosopher King: The O Force Uses Executive Power to Get around the Pesky Congress, p. B2). In it, the papers editorial board notes among other things:

Exploiting executive power is nothing new for Mr. Obama. He has appointed more executive-branch policy czars than any of his predecessors…. But last fall, Mr. Obama pressured Democrats in the Senate to kill legislation that would have brought his czars under congressional oversight.

Mr. Obama claimed emergency powers to reshape two of the Big Three auto manufacturers. He has sought the authority to assume extraordinary powers to deal with cyber threats and purported climate change. He has used executive orders to pursue pet causes, such as EO 13502, which effectively banned nonunion labor from federal construction projects, and EO 13509, which established the Soviet-sounding Council on Automotive Communities and Workers. Even Mr. Obamas liberal supporters have blanched at his claims of power regarding extraordinary rendition, surveillance, state secrets, signing statements and executive privilege.

So, we at FRC are not alone in noticing this alarming trend in the administrations behavior. Stay tuned for further developments.

Fertility: Not a Disease

by Family Research Council

February 20, 2010

Having survived the 45+ inches of snow in Washington, D.C. over the last few weeks, I enjoyed Melissa Bells recent Washington Post article on medical cabinet must-haves during a snow storm. However, when I reached the bottom of her list which included Neosporin, Band-aids, and aspirin, among other items for minor illnesses, I was reminded of the Sesame Street tune and game: One of These Things is Not Like the Other.

Bell’s last must-have was Plan B, also known as the morning-after pill. “The morning-after pill may not be a must-have for every family,” she writes, “but for women who are sexually active, even if they’re married, it probably wouldn’t hurt to have Plan B.”

What she neglects to mention is that Plan B —- unlike other birth control methods —- can act as an abortifacient. It begs the question: Why, on a list of “necessities,” would Bell include a drug that could potentially end a human life? By substituting Plan B for traditional contraception, the Post is feeding into the propaganda that these pills are nothing more than birth control, when in fact they can have lethal implications.

Moreover, I am compelled to ask: why is a womans fertility (or perhaps an unwanted pregnancy) characterized in such a way that it is included in a list of common ailments?

The Mount Vernon Statement & Enduring Principles: Perkins on Point

by Tony Perkins

February 19, 2010

How good is your knowledge of civics? What are the three branches of government? That is just an example of the questions that the Intercollegiate Studies Institute asked in a civic literacy survey they administered during the 2008 election year. Their findings were rather shocking, in their sampling 71 percent failed. Nationwide the average score was 49 percent.

Like other indicators ISI’s results give us a better understanding of why politics in America today are a drift from their historical moorings.

This understanding, in part, was behind the recently released Mount Vernon Statement. The one page statement, which you can read and sign online at frc.org, was signed by many of the nations conservative leaders at a special unveiling at Mount Vernon, the home of George Washington —- that’s not a question on the civic literacy quiz, but its good to know.

While some on the Left have criticized the statement as a return to the past because we are in denial about the present, as one of the signers, I see it much differently.

It is important that each generation renews its commitment to the enduring founding principles that have built and sustained this nation.

What are those principles?

National security, economic opportunity, religious liberty and personal responsibility. These are the enduring principles that founders enumerated in the Declaration of Independence and established in the Constitution and now we must return them to center stage in America again.

This is a perfect time to remind America of these principles as public opinion polls show that the majority of Americans are either disenchanted or disgruntled with this Administration and this Congress.

I invite you to add your name to the Mount Vernon Statement.

You can take hope in the fact that some things never change and these principles are among them.

Dropping Birth Control Out of Airplanes?

by Family Research Council

February 19, 2010

Cecile Richards, President of Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA) made the following statement during an interview this week, Investing in family planning is the smartest investment the federal government can make. I think they should be dropping birth control out of airplanes and it should be free for every woman.

While Ms. Richards was speaking in hyperbole, her organization’s anti-natalist policies and practices is no laughing matter. Planned Parenthood’s commitment to everything from abortifacient contraceptives to abortion-on-demand is demonstrated most clearly in its bottom line. The most recent report shows that Planned Parenthood, a nonprofit organization, profited $85 million in fiscal year 2007, and received approximately $350 million in government funding during that same time.

Oddly, Planned Parenthood is partnering with the U.S. Government in a program for pregnant mothers called text4baby.” Here’s my question: By association with this program, Planned Parenthood is acknowledging that the unborn are, in fact babies. So, why want to destroy them? Maybe the next time she’s in a parachute dropping birth control pills, Ms. Richards will want to ponder that question.

Ronald Reagan: The Great Inflation Fighter

by Chris Gacek

February 18, 2010

Ronald Reagans 99th birthday would have been on February 6, 2011, had he lived. Thus, it was refreshing to hear an excellent radio interview with one of Americas best economic journalists, Robert Samuelson, discussing Reagans greatest accomplishment defeating the inflation that had crippled the American economy in the 1970s. The interview on John Batchelors radio show (found here, 2/13/2010, 9pm-10pm) is roughly coincidental with the paperback release of Samuelsons The Great Inflation and Its Aftermath.

Reagan allowed the Federal Reserve chief, Paul Volcker, to throw the country into a brutal recession in which unemployment reached 10.8%. Samuelson notes that Volcker could never have achieved the defeat of inflation without the support of the sitting president. Reagans approval ratings went down to 39% in 1982, but he never wavered. Reagan realized that Jimmy Carters inflation had destroyed the faith of the American people in the economic-political system. He also understood economics well enough to know that the country could not flourish with systemic inflation, so he resolved to end it even if it destroyed him politically. This is great statesmanship, and it sets Reagan apart in a manner matched by only a few presidents.

I agree with Samuelson that this was Ronald Reagans signal achievement. Had he not solved the economic crisis there would not have been a second term and no victory in the Cold War. Conservatism would have been completely discredited. All those victories rested on Reagans economic victory and that paved the way for decades of low interest rates and low inflation. Samuelson is absolutely correct that Reagans tremendous political courage and economic insight have been overlooked and trivialized. Thus, Samuelson wrote his book, to refresh our memories lest we forget what Reagan and Volcker accomplished and lest we forget the poisonous effects of Keynesian inflation.

Murder is Never a Loving Act

by Family Research Council

February 17, 2010

Earlier this week, British TV personality Ray Goslin made the shocking admission on a documentary that years ago he killed his lover, a man who was suffering from AIDS, by smothering him with a pillow while the doctor was out of the room.

In Goslins own words, When you love someone, it is difficult to see them suffer. Yesterday Ray Goslin was arrested.

We are created by God, from the moment of conception. God, the Creator, is the Author of life and determines the time and place and means of our (creatures’) deaths. There is no such thing as a “mercy” killing, in that removing His creature from His superintending care is an act of pretense. Such an act defies human dignity.

If Mr. Goslin’s story is true, he might well have acted out of his personal anguish. But he murdered someone - and that’s not an act of love.

For more on this issue, see FRC’s InFocus Paper: “Should We Legalize Voluntary Euthanasia and Physician Assisted Suicide?

The Truth About Pregnancy Resource Centers

by Family Research Council

February 16, 2010

In the past few months, we have witnessed an intense legislative attack in many states against pregnancy resource centers. It is hard to comprehend why these centers, which have absolutely no monetary gain and exist solely to assist and support pregnant mothers in need, could be the target of such negativity.

To see what pregnancy centers are really like, view the video below —- made by Focus on the Family Action —- which shows the true story of a young pregnant woman who decided to choose life and received support for her decision through a pregnancy resource center in Colorado:

See also A Passion To Serve, a report compiling the history, vision, initiatives, etc., of pregnancy resource centers throughout the United States.

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