BRAVE NEW BABIES
By Tim and Barb Aho
By Tim and Barb Aho
THE UNPROTECTED SUBJECTS OF BIO-MEDICAL RESEARCH
On August 9, 2001, President George Bush announced to the nation a new government policy which would provide federal funding of embryonic stem cell research. The president added the qualification that the public funds would be limited to research on human embryos which have already been destroyed and would eventually be discarded anyway. Stem cells are undifferentiated cells that have the ability to form themselves into any kind of cell in the body.They are also able to divide and reproduce themselves indefinitely in the laboratory. Taking stem cells from human embryos destroys the embryos. To the wonder and amazement of the biomedical world, the president stated that the proposed federal funding would cover more than 60 existing stem cell lines that have been developed from original human embryonic stem cell cultures:
“As a result of private research, more than 60 genetically diverse stem cell lines already exist. They were created from embryos that have already been destroyed, and they have the ability to regenerate themselves indefinitely, creating ongoing opportunities for research. I have concluded that we should allow federal funds to be used for research on these existing stem cell lines, where the life-and-death decision has already been made. Leading scientists tell me research on these 60 lines has great promise that could lead to breakthrough therapies and cures.”
Stem cell lines are genetically identical or similar families or colonies of stem cells cultured from those originally taken from human embryos. Although Bush claims that “leading scientists tell me research on these 60 lines has great promise,” scientists worldwide are stating that they are aware of only 10 to 15 human stem cell lines in existence. There is speculation that the president’s generous estimate of the number of existing stem cell lines authorizes research on cell lines that were formerly ineligible on ethical grounds. However, Bush's mention of 60+ lines, rather than 10 to 15, indicates that the whole field of fetal research may be far more advanced than is being reported.
President Bush’s decision overrides a Congressional ban on federal funding for research in which human embryos are destroyed, discarded or knowingly subjected to serious risk. The President is, in effect, restoring the liberal policy of the Clinton administration of funding with taxpayer monies research of embryos created through in vitro fertilization (IVF) at the earliest stages of development. The NIH Revitalization Act of 1993 cleared the way for federal funding for research of embryos created through IVF. However, little more than a year later, Congress retreated from that position and imposed a new ban on federal funding for such research—a ban that effectively blocked funds for IVF research once again. Although President Bush’s new policy restores the Clinton/NIH pro-death initiative, a chorus of high profile neo-evangelical leaders have orchestrated applause for the new policy among pro-life conservatives.
In order to view President Bush’s stem cell policy as a pro-life victory, Christians are being asked to suspend judgment on the barbaric methods employed to obtain embryonic stem cells for research and to be grateful for the new federal funding of research on the dead embryos—a limitation that will surely be removed with pressure from the biomedical establishment upon Congress. A well-organized disinformation campaign is underway to conceal the fact that the Bush policy actually advances the pro-abortion objectives of the biomedical industry, which depends on the availability of a large quantity of human embryos/fetuses to conduct research on a broad scale.
Although the new stem cell policy limits federal funding of stem cell research, privately funded stem cell research has for many years been conducted in corporate laboratories without regulation of any kind. Such research facilities will now also receive federal funds with the new proviso attached. However, there will continue to be no restrictions on private funds for stem cell research.
One favorable analysis of President Bush’s stem cell address by neo-evangelical leader, Charles Colson, asserts that Bush upheld the principle that “human life is sacred.” However, in his address to the nation, the president equivocated on the fundamental issue of when human life begins, stating only that human embryos “have the potential for life.” A few paragraphs later, Colson regretted that the president did not call for “an outright ban on stem cell research”—the only action that would have upheld the sanctity of human life. Nonetheless, says Colson, the president has “drawn a line in the sand.”
At the Edge of the Unknown: Assessing the Stem Cell Controversy
“The President’s decision not to allow federal funding that would lead to the killing of embryos is, I believe, the defining moment of his presidency thus far. For the first time, in my memory at least, a sitting president has grappled publicly with a critical moral issue and, unapologetically, drawn a line in the sand. Beyond this divide, he said from his ranch in Crawford, Texas, we will not trespass. Human life is sacred. Bush’s decision took enormous courage…
“Now, I would have preferred an outright ban on stem cell research, but I recognize that politics is ‘the art of the possible,’ and that political leaders have to make prudential judgments in the face of strongly divided opinion. In this case, Bush made his decision with one eye on a Congress ready to vote for all-out stem cell research. Had he not allowed the continued research, Congress would have overturned his decision.” 1.
Chuck Colson seems to have no recollection that last spring the newly-inaugurated president stated that his pro-life views would compel him to continue the ban on public funding of stem cell research. Colson’s readiness to compromise on the issue of embryonic stem cell research reflects a fact of which the Christian community is generally unaware—that the organization which Colson founded and has directed since 1976, Prison Fellowship International, is an NGO in Special Consultative Status with the United Nations. Prison Fellowship International is listed as such on the United Nations NGO Database and the PFI web site also makes reference to its NGO status:
“PFI maintains NGO (non-governmental organization) consultative status with the UN Economic and Social Council and is an active participant in the UN Alliance of NGO’s on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice.” 2.
In Special Consultative capacity, Colson’s organization is required to be in conformity with the aims, purposes and work of the United Nations. Principles to Be Applied in the Establishment of Consultative Relations are clearly stated on the UN/NGO Database:
The following principles shall be applied in establishing consultative relations with non-governmental organizations:
1. The organization shall be concerned with matters falling within the competence of the Economic and Social Council and its subsidiary bodies.
2. The aims and purposes of the organization shall be in conformity with the spirit, purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations.
3. The organization shall undertake to support the work of the United Nations and to promote knowledge of its principles and activities, in accordance with its own aims and purposes and the nature and scope of its competence and activities. 3.
Needless to say, the aims, purposes and work of the UN do not include protection of the unborn, but rather legalization of abortion on demand throughout the world. In order to understand the less than stunning success of the pro-life movement, one only needs to consider the strange bedfellows which serve the United Nations as NGOs in the abbreviated lisitng below:
American Life League [Judie Brown] - ECOSOC Category - Special Consultative Status
Eagle Forum [Phyllis Schafly] - ECOSOC Category - Special Consultative Status
Family Research Council [Focus on the Family] - ECOSOC Category - Special Consultative Status [FRC letter to UN]
International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) - ECOSOC Category - General Consultative Status
International Right To Life Federation [Dr. John Wilke] - ECOSOC Category - Roster
Lucis Trust Association - ECOSOC Category - Roster
(Satanic propagator of witchcraft in the shadow of the UN)
Margaret Sanger Centre International - ECOSOC Category – Roster
[Margaret Sanger founded the Birth Control League, which became Planned Parenthood, with Rockefeller $$$]
National Right To Life Educational Trust Fund -ECOSOC Category - Special Consultative Status
National Organization for Women (NOW) - ECOSOC Category – Roster
Order Of The Hospital Of St. John Of Jerusalem, The Most Venerable [Knights of Malta] - ECOSOC Category - Special Consultative Status
Planned Parenthood Federation Of America (PPFA) - ECOSOC Category - Special Consultative Status
Population Council, The [Rockefeller] - ECOSOC Category - Special Consultative Status
Prison Fellowship International (PFI) [Charles Colson] - ECOSOC Category - Special Consultative Status
Trilateral Commission, The ECOSOC Category - Roster
Women's Federation For World Peace International [Sun Myung Moon] - ECOSOC Category - General Consultative Status
World Evangelical Fellowship (WEF) - ECOSOC Category - Special Consultative Status
World Vision International ) - ECOSOC Category - Special Consultative Status
In their zeal to mobilize Christian support for the Bush agenda, Colson and other ostensibly pro-life leaders such as D. James Kennedy and Dr. James Dobson have glossed over the fact that the president’s passive acceptance of stem cell research is an implicit endorsement of the scientific creation and destruction of human embryos for research and experimental purposes—purposes that extend far beyond the cure of diseases.
In his Statement on Stem Cells, President Bush acknowledged that scientists admit they are not yet certain if stem cell research will be able to cure diseases, but merely “believe stem cells derived from embryos have unique potential.” 4. Note that the stem cell debate has not been launched at ground zero — that is, a reasoned discussion of whether embryonic stem cells have or will actually cure any serious diseases. Rather, from the beginning, the topic has been framed in the context of a faulty assumption and carried forward with heart-rending appeals from a host of Hollywood celebrities with incurable conditions—Mary Tyler Moore, Michael J. Fox and Christopher Reeve, to name a few. Naturally, only an insensitive beast might object to a cure for debilitating diseases and disorders such as paralysis, Parkinson’s disease, diabetes, cancer, ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease), heart disease, Alzheimer’s or multiple sclerosis.
Phyllis Schlafly of Eagle Forum [UN/NGO] observes that President Bush rejected the preferable option of federal funding limited to ethical stem cell research, which has proven successful in treating diseases, choosing instead to carry on the pro-death policies of Bill Clinton.
“Did he have an alternative? Yes. President Bush could have chosen only to support ethical stem cell research, which has proven more successful scientifically. Over 11,000 babies are born every day in the United States. Parents can now choose to preserve their child's umbilical cord, which is rich in stem cells. If every parent made this decision, every human being would then have a supply of stem cells available to treat future ailments or disease.
“While embryonic stem cells have yet to provide a single benefit to a human patient, stem cells from adult tissues, umbilical cords, and placentas have successfully treated tumors, cancer, and other diseases. Taxpayers will now be forced to pay for unethical, immoral, and unnecessary embryonic stem cell research.
“In 1995, Congress outlawed federal funding for ‘research in which a human embryo or embryos are destroyed, discarded, or knowingly subjected to the risk of injury or death.’ The law is quite clear. Yet, President Bush embraced the Clintonian interpretation that if private funds were used to kill the embryos then federal funds can be used to conduct research on their remains.
“Twice in the last year, President Bush clearly stated opposition to federally funded research that kills living human embryos. President Bush broke his word to the American people. He made the right decision then but now has caved under pressure. Congress should immediately reinforce the 1995 law to ensure that all embryos will be protected from facing a death sentence in the name of experimental research, regardless of who pays for it,” Schlafly concluded.” 5.
This citation should not be taken as an endorsement of Phyllis Schafly, who is a member of the Council for National Policy—a coalition of prominent neo-evangelical ministries led by Colson, Kennedy, Dobson and other change agents who conspire with assorted Moonies, Freemasons, Scientologists, neo and former Nazis, and corporate enterprise to formulate the pseudo-conservative policies of the Christian Right. captive audience of the of the huge CNP disinformation network, Christians have been kept largely ignorant of the criminal methods of research and experimentation on human fetuses conducted by the people and organizations rushing to do stem cell research. In the early years of the pro-life movement, it was reported that embryo research was being conducted to create new cosmetics and ointments designed to make aging bodies appear more youthful. However, as the limitations of Roe v. Wade have gradually been extended from first trimester to partial birth abortions, making available more mature fetuses for scientific purposes, policy and legal restrictions on fetal research have been removed to permit even more outrageous purported biomedical research.
The Bush policy provides no regulation of private research per se on human embryos that have been created in fertility clinics by means of in vitro fertilization, i.e. those not used by infertile couples, or embryos created exclusively for the purpose of harvesting stem cells or organs. Indeed, President Bush has indicated more than once that he does not intend to interfere with private sector research projects which require the mutilation and destruction of human beings. Since Roe v. Wade, private corporations have routinely purchased aborted fetuses—many still alive—for research/experimentation purposes, including organ and stem cell harvesting.
Investigative journalist, Suzanne Rini, revealed in her book, Beyond Abortion: A Chronicle of Fetal Research, that the legalization of abortion on demand via Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton was the result of pressure exerted by the professional medical research establishment for increased supplies of late term viable fetuses. Prior to these landmark Supreme Court decisions, medical researchers had to travel to Europe to obtain living fetuses—an inconvenient and costly method of conducting business. Mrs. Rini also documented back in 1988 that a substantial number of human fetuses used in medical research, in fact the preferred type, were “living” babies, the products of third-trimester abortions, purposely induced from late-term pregnancies rather than early, and that these fetuses inevitably die in the process of and due to various experimentation procedures, which are totally unregulated.
“No sooner was the fetus denied personhood in order to permit abortion (in the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade, 1973) than the biomedical research profession entered the scene with plans to use the human fetus for much-coveted nontherapeutic human experimentation, generally forbidden under many of civilization’s highest codes. Researchers’ various specialties and inquiries called for using fetuses at various stages of development and in basically three life situations as they related to the abortion schedule:
“The live in-utero fetus. The testing of drugs, of prenatal diagnostic techniques, of vaccines, of hypotheses about the effects of diet, stress, and maternal factors are some of the research objectives for this ‘class.’ These types of experiments have two phases: administering the drug, prenatal test, caloric deprivation, etc. to the still-living, in-utero fetus, and then examining the dead fetus, upon abortion, to assess the effects. In some cases, the fetus is actually killed by the experiment rather than by the abortion.
“The viable fetus, ex-utero, still living after the abortion. This fetus would be analogous to a premature infant, except that the fetus would not be permitted to survive the experiment, whereas, most premature, wanted infants are helped to independence through medical technology. The viable fetus was included in several early, documented experiments but this class of fetus was disallowed for nontherapeutic experimentation with government funds once federal regulations were devised in 1976. However, these regulations do not govern experiments done with private monies.
“The ‘previable’ fetus, ex- or in-utero. This fetus is defined by the federal regulations as one about to be or already aborted (but aborted with some vital signs and therefore living). To meet this criterion, the fetus must be on the abortion schedule up to and including the second trimester, and weigh no more than 400 grams (about one pound). The thinking behind allowing this ‘class’ of fetus for research is that it cannot survive on its own. However, some fetuses have survived with the help of ever-improving medical technology. Additionally, while federal regulations allow nontherapeutic research on these fetuses, most states now disallow it and further demand that nay fetus surviving the abortion procedure, viable or not, must be helped to survival.
“The dead fetus. Dead means clinically dead, that is, with no vital signs. This category of fetus would be said to be used to gain living tissues. While this is seen by many to be noncontroversial, others believe that it is unethical to use the living matter of these fetuses to benefit medical inquiry because they are not simply random victims, such as those of murder or accidents are, rather, part of an entire class of human being denied intrinsic rights. The use of this class spurs the analogy of use of the body parts and tissues of concentration camp victims by the Nazis for anything from ‘medical progress’ to soap and lampshades.
“The outraged reader may ask if there are laws against this. There are, in fact, government regulations (not laws) and medical ethics codes that permit it. Strangely, there are also some state laws that forbid it; these seem, on the basis of evidence to be presented, to be equivocal and largely unenforced…” 6.
At the present time, some private corporations are preparing to clone human embryos with the objective of extracting stem cells and, it is feared, more sinister purposes. Could the biotechnical fixation on cloning—creating new forms of life, new species, by asexual means, that reflect esoteric rather than Christian beliefs—be the force driving the biomedical establishment’s intense lobbying for human embryos, rather than the treatment of disease? The theatrics being staged to elicit public sympathy and support for the eradication of disease through stem cell research have all the characteristics of being the typical philanthropic facade for Rockefeller eugenics.
Another unsettling matter is the revelation that George Bush’s new policy has removed some of the strict ethics guidelines fertility clinics must follow in obtaining embryos. The Bush policy fails to include a previous clause which disallowed the direct solicitation of unused embryos from women prior to undergoing fertility procedures. If women knew the suffering endured by fetuses in experimental laboratories, few would be willing to sell their offspring to research institutes. The Washington Post noted the removal of an obscure but important ethical requirement in the Bush stem cell policy:
SOME CLINTON RULES RELAXED
“But on the question of embryo procurement, the Bush plan demands only that donors at fertility clinics give “proper informed consent,” without defining what that means. By contrast, the Clinton rules specified in great detail how the informed consent process should proceed. It demanded that consent documents use specific wording to ensure that women did not feel coerced to donate their embryos.
“In addition, the Clinton rules also required that only frozen embryos be used for research so that embryos would not be taken just as a woman was undergoing in vitro fertilization—an emotionally vulnerable time that ethicists have said should be off-limits to researchers seeking embryos. Bush has made no mention of such a restriction.” 7.
A further concession to the biomedical industry, Bush’s policy allows for 60 human embryonic stem cell lines to be eligible for federally funded research; however, stem cell specialists say they are aware of only 10 or 15 lines. There is some speculation that this means permission to use cell lines that were formerly ineligible on ethical grounds:
“For all the restrictions President Bush imposed on federal funding of human embryonic stem cell research, he also made a little-noticed policy change that in one area makes his rules more permissive than those of President Bill Clinton.
“THAT POLICY CHANGE — the removal of strict ethics guidelines governing the procurement of stem cell-laden embryos from fertility clinics — means that colonies of cells that had flunked the Clinton administration’s ethics guidelines will now be eligible for use in federally funded studies.
“The subtle but potentially significant difference between the Bush and Clinton rules was one of several areas that federal officials tried to clarify yesterday in the aftermath of the stem cell announcement, highlighting some of the perils that Bush faced as he navigated through the sensitive, high-profile issue.
“The long-awaited announcement drew a range of reactions, but seemed, at least for the moment, to quell a drive in Congress to demand more funding for stem cell research, which scientists hope will lead to new treatments for a wide range of diseases.
“Much of the reaction focused on Bush’s decision to limit federal subsidies to existing cell lines, with some scientists challenging the administration’s estimate of how many lines actually exist and questioning how useful those lines will be.
“On the whole, Bush’s new stem cell rules are far more restrictive than the ones Clinton had put in place because they limit research to cells derived from embryos that were destroyed before Bush made his announcement…
SOME CELL LINES GRANDFATHERED IN
“Others said that in any case, Bush’s dilution of the ethics rules was disturbing.
“‘It’s very troubling to find that this policy may actually grandfather in cell lines that were ineligible on ethical grounds even under the Clinton guidelines,’ said Richard Doerflinger of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which opposes federal funding of human embryo stem cell research.
“‘To be sure, our moral objection has not centered on how informed the parents’ consent is,’ Doerflinger said, noting that it focuses instead on the well-being of the embryos. ‘But at least the Clinton guidelines spelled all this out. This is distressing.’
“Bush’s statement Thursday that there are 60 human embryonic stem cell lines already in existence eligible for study with federal funds under the new plan caught many researchers by surprise. Even specialists in the field had been unaware there were more than 10 or 15 lines.
“Lana Skirbol, NIH director of science policy, said the number Bush referred to was derived from a recent intensive round of inquiries to laboratories around the world by the agency. Many more lines are in existence than previously believed, she said, with several being kept behind closed doors to protect commercial and proprietary interests.” 8.
Finally, the Washington Post reporter pointed out an obvious conflict of interest for Secretary of Health and Human Services, Tommy Thompson. As former governor of Wisconsin, Thompson helped to create the University of Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF) which controls most of the known stem cell lines in the U.S. The new Bush stem cell policy, which places the condition that federal funding will only be available for research on stem cells already extracted, gives the advantage to private sector research institutes such as WARF which operate without restraint.
“A large percentage of the revenue that will come from federally funded research on existing stem cell lines will end up paying for these companies’ patents on stem cell research...
“WARF may literally own all of those existing cell lines Bush refers to - and may stand to build a research empire from the royalties and ‘reach through agreement’ that ensures that it owns essentially anything created from its cells.
“If embryos discarded after IVF had been used, Wisconsin would have made little from stem cell research. Instead, under Bush policy, there will be a tariff on any research and it will be gathered almost exclusively by the home state of one of his senior cabinet officials.
“It does not look good, but more important it is not good policy, setting a bad precedent for the ownership of basic science by small companies. President Bush must insist that federal dollars not go to pay for patents on stem cell lines.” 9.
Geron Corporation, which is attempting to clone human embryos, financed the first research of human embryo experiments in 1998 at WARF. The ramifications of a private monopoly on stem cell and other forms of fetal research/experimentation, including research on live fetuses and the creation of human clones for private purposes, are profoundly disturbing. Few people realize that a foundation is being laid for a massive Nazi-style eugenics program, where the unthinkable becomes acceptable even by Christians, as happened in Nazi Germany. Another fact of which pro-life Christians are generally unaware is that the father of George W. Bush (Skull & Bones, 1968), George Herbert Walker Bush (Skull & Bones, 1948), deregulated fetal research during his term as president. Add to this the fact that the president’s grandfather, Prescott Bush (Skull & Bones, 1917), was a director of the Union Banking Corporation, which held $3 million of Nazi funds until the U.S. government seized Union's assets under the Trading with the Enemy Act. 10.
Two short articles and a book recommendation are appended below to put Christians in possession of some facts on the stem cell/fetal research issue which reveal the true character of President Bush’s policy. May our stand on pro-life issues never be removed from the command of God - thou shalt not kill - to embrace political compromises.
Tim and Barbara Aho
Beyond Abortion: A Chronicle of Fetal Experimentation, Suzanne Rini, Magnificat Press, 1988, TAN Books & Publishers, 1993.
Available at Amazon.com
Documents the merciless experiments on human infants scheduled for abortion, the removal of organs and body tissue from still-living fetal infants, and the live “harvesting” of their organs for the use of others, showing that these activities are becoming increasingly accepted by doctors and researchers today and are going on quietly with almost no restriction. Mrs. Rini, initially skeptical that these things were actually happening, began investigating fetal experimentation and uncovered a network of medical researchers, hidden from public view, whose work is preparing us for a free-fall into eugenic engineering - featuring mandatory elimination of the “defective” and the “unwanted.” Among other things, Mrs. Rini explains how live aborted fetuses are obtained for research and how genetic screening is used to push selective abortion of the “genetically inferior.” She shows the horrendous moral implications of these growing practices and concludes that they form “the new barbarism” of our age. This is the only book on the subject in print and a real awakener. Fetal experimentation may just be the barbarity that brings down the whole abortion business.
from the Publisher, March 6, 2001
BEYOND ABORTION—A Chronicle of Fetal Experimentation. Suzanne Rini. The only book we know on the subject of harvesting fetal organs from the living children after they are aborted. Uncovers the network of medical researchers, hidden from the public view, whose work seems to be preparing us for a Nazi-like eugenics program, featuring mandatory elimination of the handicapped, before and after birth. The barbarity of this activity beggars description or condemnation!
Bush says he’d veto broader stem-cell funding
Source: MSNBC August 10
President Bush's decision to allow federal funding of limited embryonic stem cell research will nudge forward work now underway in corporate-funded labs...
A total ban on federal funding would not have stopped embryonic stem-cell research, and it would have had no impact on scientists working only with non-government funding. Instead, Bush's policy will impose limits only on scientists who accept federal funding. In exchange for the federal support, they will be banned from harvesting new stem cells from embryos and confined to studying cells generated in already existing projects.
Stem cells derived from human embryos already have been created by researchers at various U.S. institutions, including Johns Hopkins, the University of Wisconsin and the Jones Institute for Reproductive Medicine in Norfolk, Va.
Last month, a team of scientists at the Jones Institute used private funds to create human embryos for the sole purpose of obtaining their stem cells, apparently the first time this had been done. The Jones Institute used in vitro fertilization to create the embryos.
Advanced Cell Technology of Worcester, Mass., is preparing to produce the world's first cloned human embryos, from which it will extract stem cells.
Research: University of Wisconsin researchers have obtained stem cells from 1-week-old embryos that had been created in fertility clinics by means of in vitro fertilization. These cells came from "leftover" embryos that were not used by couples to have children. In order to obtain the stem cells, researchers had to destroy the embryos.
Legal status: Nine states ban in vitro fertilization embryo research. Wisconsin is not one of those states. Federal law bans use of federal funds for research in which embryos are destroyed. Private funding from Geron Corp., a Menlo Park Calif., pharmaceutical firm, supported the University of Wisconsin research. There is no federal ban on such privately funded research.
Drawback: Those who see the embryo as human life and are opposed to destroying it oppose this type of research.
SPECIAL PURPOSE EMBRYOS
Research: The Jones Institute for Reproductive Medicine in Virginia created embryos by means of in vitro fertilization for the sole purpose of extracting stem cells from them. In order to obtain the stem cells, researchers had to destroy the embryo.
Legal status: Nine states ban in vitro fertilization embryo research. Virginia is not one of those states. Federal law bans the use of federal funds for research in which embryos are destroyed. Private funding supported the Jones Institute research. There is no federal ban on such privately funded research.
Drawback: Critics of the Jones Institute said it was "ghoulish" to create embryos knowing they that would be destroyed.
Research: A Worcester, Mass., firm, Advanced Cell Technology, is preparing to produce the world's first cloned human embryos from which it will extract stem cells. The technique used is not in vitro fertilization, but one called somatic cell nuclear transfer.
Legal status: On July 31, the House of Representatives passed a bill that would outlaw cloning of human embryos. The Senate has not yet acted.
Drawback: "Creating cloned embryos in the lab opens the door to a Brave New World and a post-human future," said Rep. Dave Weldon, R-Fla., the sponsor of the House bill.
Research: Researchers at Johns Hopkins University took stem cells from 5- to 9-week-old embryos or fetuses obtained through abortions.
Legal status: It is legal to use aborted fetuses for research purposes. Private funding from Geron Corp. supported the research.
Drawback: Those who oppose abortion also oppose using aborted fetuses for research purposes.
By RACHEL SCHEIER
Daily News Business Writer
Until last week, Geron was a little-known, thinly funded biotech firm performing research that few people understood. It featured on its Web site a company photo of its 112 employees smiling on their Silicon Valley office lawn.
But in the last week, Geron has become one of the most talked-about companies in the United States. That's because Geron is the market leader in research of stem cells derived from human embryos, which have become the center of a tangled ethical and political debate.
Geron and companies like it could benefit richly down the road, some experts believe, from President Bush's decision to allow federal taxpayer money to finance research into stem cells derived from human embryos.
This type of research could lead to cures for such diseases as cancer and Alzheimer's, but it has been opposed by some ethicists and religious groups because an embryo must be destroyed to derive such cells.
The conditions Bush is placing — that only cells already extracted could be used for federally funded research — may give a boost to private corporate research that operates under no such restraints.
There aren't many stem cell research outfits, and Geron, based in Menlo Park, Calif., is one of only two U.S. companies involved in stem cell work. The other is Advanced Cell Technology of Worcester, Mass., a private company with about 50 employees. Neither firm is well-funded.
Geron's shares have had the same roller coaster ride of many high tech companies, soaring to nearly $70 in March 2000 from $4.20 in August 1998, and back down to $13.95, off 99 cents, on Friday.
The company describes its goal as developing and marketing treatments for cancer and degenerative diseases. Stem cells are just a tool.
Analysts have often cautioned that such firms are a risky bet for investors, because any payoff from their research is questionable and could take decades to materialize. Indeed, federal funds have long been seen as key to the future of such firms.
"We are very pleased," said Thomas Okarma, Geron's CEO, in a conference call Friday. Okarma has testified repeatedly before Congress in support of federally funded research. "We expect to be collaborating with some of those [government-funded] laboratories."
One reason Geron is an important player is that it financed the first research of human embryo experiments in 1998, at the University of Wisconsin. Federal funding was not allowed then.
The Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation and its subsidiary, WiCell, now control most of the known so-called stem cell lines in the U.S., of which there are only a few. The foundation has said it intends to make the cells — which can multiply indefinitely — widely available at reasonable cost.
But both Geron and the foundation already hold patent rights not just to the cells themselves, but to the varied technologies involved in research of the cells. Other biotech companies have taken out similar patents on various aspects of stem cell research.
Some academics and government officials have expressed concern that a fair chunk of federal research monies might have to be used just to pay licensing fees to such companies and the University of Wisconsin.
"This is an unprecedented monopoly on basic science," said Glenn McGee, a bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania, who added that under Bush's decision, it appeared that the University of Wisconsin stood to benefit the most.
"The implication is that a few tiny companies essentially own stem cell research," McGee said.
But others cautioned it remains unclear how patent law will play out, and how companies such as Geron will benefit from the government's funding of stem cell research.
"This does not change the nature of what is a very high-risk enterprise," said Yi Ri, a biotech analyst with Mehta Partners.
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