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Stem Cells Ethics -

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Commentary of Mahoney

Do not reduce human life to laboratory rats.

George Bush

It crosses a moral boundary.

Tony Abbott

People have been guilty of over peddling hope.

Professor Robert Jansen

I reject that criticism. This is medical research at its best.

NARRATION

Destroying embryos for research has always sparked heated ethical debates. This story is no
exception. It will polarise opinions and challenge your view on when life begins.

Dr Maryanne Demasi

Here, we explore whether new discoveries in stem cell research will finally see the opponents and
the supporters peacefully unite.

NARRATION

In what's been dubbed the stem cell breakthrough of the decade, Japanese scientists have discovered
a new type of stem cell, that could eliminate the need for using human embryos. They're called
induced pluripotent stem cells or IPS cells.

Bishop Anthony Fisher

I was delighted when I heard about IPS cells being achieved. That's a great step forward to us
because it means we can obtain cells that can do all the things that embryonic stem cells can do,
but without having to destroy embryos.

NARRATION

For over 30 years, IVF clinics have been creating embryos to help infertile couples have children.
This has resulted in thousands of surplus embryos sitting in storage across Australia.

Professor Robert Jansen

What can happen with those embryos is that they can be donated to research or they can be simply
discarded or in very rare cases, donate them to another couple.

NARRATION

It's these surplus embryos that scientists have been using to extract embryonic stem cells. Five
days after fertilisation, the stem cells have accumulated in a pocket called the inner cell mass.
An embryo can develop into a foetus, but only if it's implanted into a woman's womb. Until then, it
remains a microscopic mass of cells with no brain, no conscience, no bones and no organs.

Professor Robert Jansen

Up until the point of implantation then it's hard to see an embryo as a human life.

NARRATION

But pro-lifers disagree.

Assoc. Professor Nicholas Tonti-Filippini

If you take the view, as the Church does, that an embryo is a is a human life, then destroying an
embryo for research purposes is on a par with destroying you for research purposes or destroying me
for research purposes.

Dr Maryanne Demasi

So this is the sticking point. It's really a question of 'when does life begin?' Is it at
conception? Or is it when the foetus forms? Well, no one can agree.

Dr Maryanne Demasi

When do Catholics believe that life begins?

Assoc. Professor Nicholas Tonti-Filippini

Life begins at the formation of the first cell, that is normally when fertilisation when the sperm
and the egg unite.

NARRATION

Other faiths have a more pragmatic view. Many Muslim scholars believe that life begins when the
soul enters the foetus at around 40 days into pregnancy.

Dr Jamila Hussain

While destroying an embryo may be seen as something that was not desirable by itself, if it is in
the interest of scientific research, and if it is at that very early stage, then it's acceptable.

NARRATION

The Jewish community take a similar view. Many believe life begins after implantation when the
organs develop.

Rabbi John Levi

Although you don't deliberately destroy life, the cells which are in the laboratory are not going
to develop into lives anyway. And I don't think the same concern has to be directed to them that is
directed towards a foetus. They're different things.

Professor Bob Williamson

I think it's a gradual development. When it becomes a foetus, when it becomes capable of living its
own life at that point it deserves the full respect of a human being.

NARRATION

Eminent scientist Professor Bob Williamson says fundamentalists have always argued that it's an
embryo's 'potential for life' that's important. But we now know that even skin cells have this
potential for life.

Professor Bob Williamson

So if every cell in your body has the potential to make an embryo, then obviously potential itself
cannot be used as the main ethical argument. If that were true, every time we washed our hands,
we'd be killing twenty thousand, forty thousand, sixty thousand potential individuals. You can't
actually argue that way.

Assoc. Professor Nicholas Tonti-Filippini

There are some scientists around who try to use the science to make moral points. Bob Williamson
does that. Claiming that a skin cell has the same capacity as an embryo is just deceitful.

NARRATION

So it comes down to this. Do you believe that a microscopic five day old embryo has the moral
equivalence of a fully formed human life? Carrie Beetham doesn't.

Carrie Beetham

I believe that we're not meant to suffer like this and people are meant to help wherever they can.

NARRATION

Carrie suffers from a degenerative nerve disease called Friedreich's Ataxia or FA.

Carrie Beetham

It's like a grieving process but instead of moving away from the tragedy it's moving towards it and
so my grief only gets stronger as I watch my body dying.

Steve Beetham

That day that the specialist told us that Carrie had FA was the day that everything changed.

NARRATION

At 33, there's still no treatment or cure, but Carrie believes science can offer her only glimmer
of hope.

Carrie Beetham

There is definitely hope. And most of it is coming from the science that's going on with stem cell
research.

NARRATION

Raised a catholic, Carrie feels divided from the church on the issue of embryonic stem cell
research. She's a strong advocate.

Carrie Beetham

People that want, have the best intentions and try and do the best but they often make it worse for
you and I think that's what the Catholic church is doing. I understand their intentions may, are
great, but to deny happiness to us it's just immoral.

Bishop Anthony Fisher

The only way of getting embryonic stem cells is to kill embryos. And so at any stage, to kill that
in order to take parts that you want for some other very good use possibly ah is, is not ethical.

Professor Bob Williamson

People who are fundamentalist will never agree to using those embryos for research and from what I
understand and some of them have said this, they would rather see them thrown out, they would
rather see them just dumped down the sink than used for research in order to help people with
genetic and other diseases.

Dr Maryanne Demasi

What would the church like to see happen to spare embryos?

Assoc. Professor Nicholas Tonti-Filippini

The Church's view is that the embryos be taken out of storage and allowed to succumb.

Dr Maryanne Demasi

Some would say it's unethical not to use the embryos if they're just going to be thrown away?

Assoc. Professor Nicholas Tonti-Filippini

Whatever the long term consequences, the fact that you might be able to produce some good by doing
a wrong thing doesn't make the wrong thing right.

Dr Maryanne Demasi

But for the Beetham family who may benefit from those spare embryos, well, that's a hard pill to
swallow, even for these Catholics.

Kaye Beetham

It's up to the mother what's going to happen to the embryo, and she, if she chooses to give it to
science, that's what I'm on about.

NARRATION

So, the question remains, should embryonic stem cell research continue?

Bishop Anthony Fisher

I think we should be defunding that. And interestingly now a lot of the big funders in the United
States are moving away from funding the embryonic stem cell research and into the IPS labs.

NARRATION

But scientists warn we're still learning about IPS cells. Embryo research has revolutionised our
understanding of stem cells and defunding that research would be premature.

Professor Bob Williamson

if we discard the ability to look at embryonic stem cells, we will deprive our self of the ability
to look at the one kind of cell that we know for sure can give us every kind of cell in the human
body. If scientists are successful in developing new forms of treatment that really will help the
Carrie Beethams, that really will help people with cystic fibrosis, how could one possibly argue
against using this for the benefit of patients.

NARRATION

At least for Carrie, continuing research with all types of stem cells gives her the greatest chance
for a cure...

Carrie Beetham

When I die or when I get to heaven or wherever, I'll be asking why didn't you send us a cure? And
maybe the reply would be well we did...

Topics: Health

Reporter: Dr Maryanne Demasi

Producer: Dr Maryanne Demasi

Researcher: Dr Maryanne Demasi

Camera: Kevin May, Rod Coats, Dennis Brennan, Mark Farnell, David Marshall ACS

Sound: Steve Ravich, Ron Lee, Max Hensser, Graeme Cornish, David Pearson

Editor: Lile Judickas, Philippa Byers

Story Contacts

Professor Bob Williamson

University of Melbourne

Professor Robert Jansen

Sydney IVF

Carrie and Varlli Beetham

Dr Mirella Dottori

University of Melbourne

Associate Professor Nicholas Tonti-Filippini

John Paul II Institute for Marriage & Family, Melbourne

Related Info

Friedreich Ataxia Research Association

^ top

YOUR COMMENTS

>> Add a Comment

MRS VAL JAMES - 09 Apr 2010 9:02:12am

I watched with great interst to carrie's show. our grandson aged 13 has just been diagnosed with
friedriechs ataxia he is being trialed with idebenone as he has thickened muscle on left side of
his heart. would welcome contact by email to carrie and family. jacob is only child in w.a being
treated for this disease.

thank you sincerely for your show

val

>> Reply

Warren of Toowoomba - 09 Apr 2010 1:08:05am

Got too many surplus eggs. Why not let the parents decide their fate.

Got too many Scientists braying about those pesky fundamentalists and their moral overtones. Why
not shut them out by slapping the results of your years of Human Clinical Tests on the desk in
front of them? Embryonic Stem Cells V's Adult Stem Cells. No conga line of wrecked bodies, no
bucket full of blue sky or finger pointing. Just results. Winner takes all.

Now that would be a show and a half.

>> Reply

Peter Cartledge - 08 Apr 2010 11:27:14pm

I found this a fascinating but somewhat frustrating story to watch. It irks me the way scientific
and medical research is held back to the detriment of human beings undergoing real suffering by
unproven and unprovable concepts such as the existence of a "soul". I feel for the sufferers of
genetic illnesses and their families

>> Reply

Gerard Flood - 08 Apr 2010 9:38:45pm

The following quote exemplifies a weakness of your program: "Dr Maryanne Demasi

When do Catholics believe that life begins?

Assoc. Professor Nicholas Tonti-Filippini

Life begins at the formation of the first cell, that is normally when fertilisation when the sperm
and the egg unite.

NARRATION

Other faiths have a more pragmatic view. Many Muslim scholars believe that life begins when the
soul enters the foetus at around 40 days into pregnancy."

Fact: "When (a human) life begins" is a biological fact, ie at fertilisation, as taught in
foundational embryology [unless Catalyst wishes to suggest that current basic Western 'scientific'
teaching in Embryology is subject to revision based upon pre-scientific "belief knowledge"].

Opinion: The significance granted to each individual human life [at whatever stage] varies from
person to person, from philosophic stream to philosophic stream, and from polity to polity.

Generally, your program suffered from a lack of clear thinking appropriate to the intrinsic issues
involved.

However, sincere congratulations on raising the problematic issues, and presenting them as
deserving serious reflection.

>> Reply

Harry Court - 08 Apr 2010 8:46:20pm

Dear Catalyst Team, a stem cell story requires a more vigorous investigation. For a science program
I was disappointed by the use of language like "fundamentalist." You did allow one or two contrary
views but then many views or justifications were left alone. EG: People on any form of life support
according to Bob Williamson are not people, only a Catholic & Islamic view on soul implantation
were presented, only a women has an embryo disposal right, a very serious and needy person looking
for any answer is used emotionally to push an argument ( the Superman example again), different
theological views on God's purpose by people from the same denomination are set against each
other...a wonderful post modern view, when does life begin well that is determined by your
definition and everyone disagree but it is obvious that it is a ongoing line of developing
cells...from day one what else can it be and hand washing living cells (that should have been
deleted..Bob embarrased himself), uncaring fundamentalist versus caring ultlitarian scientist, and
no one even addressed the ethical problem of an old experiemtnal system celebrated by scientists
for common good that unethically generated left over unwanted embryos. I commend your attempt

>> Reply

dream on - 08 Apr 2010 8:45:47pm

An informed person [as opposed to a Catalyst journo] would also be aware that a significant number
of Anglican & Catholic churchmen do not believe in their churches' official position on stem cell
research,etc. Wisely they keep their views to themselves.

John Howard wasn't a Catholic. He was against stem cell research, & passed legislation to that
effect.

Paul Keating was a practicing Catholic. His govt allowed regulated stem cell research.

Suggest Catalyst journos stop Catholic-bashing.

I am eager for stem cell research to go ahead full steam, as are most Australians. Anyone with half
a brain just ignores the anti-stem cell lobby.

However I am starting to wonder why my taxes are spent on the ABC so it can indulge in
anti-Catholic propaganda fuelled by the prejudices of a few ill-informed journos.

>> Reply

dream on - 08 Apr 2010 8:28:13pm

Catalyst made statements that

"Catholics believe.....blah blah blah......"

This is not what most Catholics believe, it is what the Catholic Church believes. There is a vast
difference. I know, I am a Catholic, & so are more than 50% of my friends.

None of my friends follows the Church's doctrine on these matters. We don't make a fuss about it,
but any politician who is against stem cell research is very unlikely to get our vote.

We don't vote for stupidity.

We definitely resent journalists misrepresenting our views however.

It's as insulting & untrue as saying that all Islamists are terrorists.

btw, the official views of both the Catholic & Anglican churches are quite similar on these
matters. No mention of the Anglicans in this story.

Bit of anti-Catholic paranoia on Catalyst perhaps ????

>> Reply