WHITE PAPER: Alternative Sources of Pluripotent Stem CellS
The President's Council on Bioethics
Alternative Sources of Human Pluripotent Stem Cells is
a White Paper of the President's Council on Bioethics, which was
created by President George W. Bush on November 28, 2001, by means
of Executive Order 13237.
The Council's purpose is to advise the President on bioethical
issues related to advances in biomedical science and technology.
In connection with its advisory role, the mission of the Council
includes the following functions:
- To undertake fundamental inquiry into the human and moral significance
of developments in biomedical and behavioral science and technology.
- To explore specific ethical and policy questions related to
- To provide a forum for a national discussion of bioethical
- To facilitate a greater understanding of bioethical issues.
The President left the Council free to establish its own priorities
among the many issues encompassed within its charter and to determine
its own modes of proceeding.
Stem cell research has been of interest to, and associated in
the public mind with, this Council since its creation. Taking up
the charge given to us by President Bush in his August 9, 2001,
speech on stem cell research, the Council has from its beginnings
been monitoring developments in this fast-paced and exciting field
of research. In January 2004, the Council published a report, Monitoring
Stem Cell Research, which provided an overview of the law, ethics,
and science of stem cell research. That report was intended to serve
as a source of clear, intelligible, and useful information for both
policymakers and the general public regarding the current state
of this important research and of the debates that surround it.
Much of the ethical controversy over stem cells derives from the
fact that, until now, the only way to obtain human pluripotent stem
cell lines has been to derive them from living human embryos by
a process that necessarily destroys the embryos. If a way could
be found to derive such stem cell lines without creating and destroying
human embryos, a good deal of that ethical controversy would subside.
The present White Paper may be regarded as a new contribution
to the stem cell discussions. It reports on some recent developments
that deserve public notice because of their potential for finding
a morally uncontroversial means of obtaining pluripotent human stem
cells. Over the past six months, the Council has been looking into
specific scientific proposals for obtaining pluripotent, genetically
stable, and long-lived human stem cells by methods that would not
involve destroying or endangering human embryos. In December 2004,
the Council heard presentations of two such proposals, one by Drs.
Donald Landry and Howard Zucker of the Columbia University College
of Physicians and Surgeons, and the other by Dr. William Hurlbut
of Stanford University (and a member of this Council). In March
2005, the Council discussed a staff working paper in which these
two proposals, as well as two others, were explained and analyzed.
That staff working paper, extensively revised and improved in
light of Council discussions and member comments, is what the Council
is now issuing as a White Paper, Alternative Sources of Human
Pluripotent Stem Cells. In its present form, the White Paper
has also benefited from expert review by three prominent scientists
(Andrew Fire of the Stanford University School of Medicine, Markus
Grompe of the Oregon Health & Science University, and Janet
Rossant of the Samuel Lunenfeld Research Institute in Toronto, Ontario),
as well as consultation with scientists at the National Institutes
The White Paper introduces the four proposals and begins an analysis
of their strengths and weaknesses, ethical, scientific, and practical.
Because the scientific and practical merits of these proposals are
in large part empirical matters, not settled in advance by mere
speculation, we give special weight to the ethical analysis. We
also explore, in a preliminary way, whether these alternative avenues
of deriving and using pluripotent stem cells are likely to be embraced
by scientists or to become eligible for federal funding.
It remains to be seen whether any of these proposals will succeed
scientifically, and more discussion is surely required on some of
the ethical issues we have identified. Nevertheless, having conducted
this "preliminary hearing," we believe that several of these possibilities
have sufficient merit to commend them now to wider public attention
and further scientific investigation. People of all moral and political
persuasions should be pleased to learn that scientists and others
are creatively seeking morally unproblematic and uncontroversial
ways to advance this promising area of scientific research.
In creating this Council, President Bush expressed his desire
to see us
consider all of the medical and ethical ramifications of biomedical
innovation. . . . This council will keep us apprised of new developments
and give our nation a forum to continue to discuss and evaluate
these important issues. As we go forward, I hope we will always
be guided by both intellect and heart, by both our capabilities
and our conscience.
It has been our goal in the present White Paper, as in all of
our work, to live up to these high hopes and noble aspirations.
Leon R. Kass, M.D.