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FRIDAY, December 3, 2004

Session 7: Public Comments

MR. HANSON:  Well, thank you for the opportunity to comment today.  The Executive Director of the Center wanted me to extend his personal greetings to you, Dr. Kass.  So greetings from Andrew Kimbrell.  I want to say my comments are going to be on the altered nuclear transfer technique and I want to begin by offering my personal words to Bill and how much I appreciate his thoughtful thinking. 

But, we're told that this procedure is intended as a means of avoiding the destruction of embryos in producing embryonic stem cells, but we think this notion is mistaken in that we believe that the technique actually does produce embryos albeit defective ones through a combination of cloning and human germline and genetic engineering.  We think if the proposed experiment were to be conducted on human embryos, it would confront us with an ethical question about whether we produce any human life solely for its commercial value. 

We also think there's a second ethical watershed that would be crossed.  This would be in effect, the first human germline, genetic engineering experiment.  For the first time, we would be engineering human life at its earliest stages.  In fact, it seems to require two engineerings.  We do not believe that society should cross these boundaries without a very full public debate.  We urge the council to support an immediate moratorium on all such experiments with human embryos until a robust public debate has occurred and there is wide public consensus that we have in place safeguards to prevent abuse of this potential technology. 

We go on and list some other concerns we have but those are out two main concerns and I thank you for your time.

CHAIRMAN KASS:  Thank you very much and hold it just a second.  If there is a longer statement either now or soon, I think this would be welcome and we'll see that it's circulated to everybody here.  The genetic modification aspect of this is an issue that so far hasn't been discussed today and whether or not this is or is not an organism or an embryo, there are people who have reason to be concerned about such genetic engineering close to the human and I think the point — it's something we will want to talk about.

MR. HANSON:  We also, just to briefly summarize the longer point, we also have some concerns that this — even if the proponents don't consider this an embryo, they may well want to patent it.  The patent office might consider in embryo-like enough to use it as a precedent.  So we have other concerns as well.

CHAIRMAN KASS:  Thank you very much.

MR. HANSON:  I do have copies of the statement I'll leave with whoever.

CHAIRMAN KASS:  If you'd just leave it with Diane Gianelli, she'll see that all of us get sent this.  Thank you very much.

MR. HANSON:  Thank you very much.

CHAIRMAN KASS:  Richard Doerflinger.

MR. DOERFLINGER:  I also want to talk about altered nuclear transfer.  I have — as many on the council know — have been skeptical and remain skeptical of many claims for the unique benefits of embryonic stem cells, including those derived from nuclear transfer.  That being said, I know many scientists believe in those unique benefits, and some of them share my moral convictions against destroying human life at any stage. 

If, and this is a big if, a procedure can be found to provide embryonic stem cells without creating or destroying embryos, that would address the Catholic Church's most fundamental moral objection to embryonic stem cell research as now pursued.  Clearly, such a procedure would not be prohibited by the cloning bans the Catholic bishops have supported at the state or federal level, which routinely exempt the use of nuclear transfer or any other cloning procedure to produce tissues, organs or cells other than human embryos. 

I, therefore, see no moral reason at this time to oppose the further exploration of this theory in an animal model so its feasibility can better be assessed.  This would give scientists an opportunity to show their real commitment is to scientific progress, not to the exploitation of embryos, and gives organizations like mine an opportunity to show that our concern is respect for life, not a fear of scientific research or scientific progress.

Regarding one particular technique for pursuing this, the deletion of the cdx2 gene, I for one am not convinced it fulfills my criterion for saying the resulting entity is never an embryo.  Surely, it is not enough to say the genetic defect preventing organismal development was introduced into the genome from the very beginning.  Any adult who develops Huntington's disease at the age of 40 had the genetic defect ab initio.  But it also matters what development has taken place in the meantime. 

If that gene is expressed only after the 16 to 32-cell stage, it seems to me this would be an embryo that undergoes normal development as a human organism to a certain point and then dies.  Surely the entity has to depart from organic human development from the beginning to fulfill what I would see as the correct goal for altered nuclear transfer.

If no procedure can be found that truly produces embryonic stem cells but not an embryo, my objections would certainly be equal to some of those raised by Mr. Hanson. 

Finally, the problem of using human eggs and the potential of exploiting women for their eggs will ultimately have to be addressed once this is attempted in humans.  Perhaps animal eggs will turn out to be sufficient.  Those have proved very disappointing to researchers trying to use cloning to make normal human embryos using animal eggs, but here we are not trying to make normal human embryos.

Perhaps very few eggs of any kind will be needed, because this technique will be used chiefly to make a few cell lines as disease models or for drug testing.  Increasingly, proponents of cloning for research are admitting that large scale use of nuclear transfer to make cells for direct therapeutic use in patients is doomed to practical and economic failure.  I would only note that it would have been nice for them to admit that before they managed to convince the voters of California to approve the $3 billion give-away for cloning last month. Or perhaps other ways to achieve complete or partial reprogramming of a body cell nucleus without using an egg will be further refined and replace the use of eggs for this technique. 

I do simply want to offer the caveat that this problem ultimately must be addressed as well, the problem of use of human eggs, if this approach is to achieve moral consensus. But at this time, I certainly appreciate the conceptual model that Dr. Hurlbut has presented, and I think exploration in animal models is well worth at least pursuing at this time.  Thank you. 

CHAIRMAN KASS:  Since you have the floor and since you are really one of the most meticulous and thoughtful and careful people about such things and even though you didn't come prepared to speak about it, do you have any reaction to the other proposal of developing criteria for death in embryos follow — only following which would the removal of embryos be attempted?  Does that strike you as morally acceptable, questionable?  Do you have — or would you rather think about it and let me know privately?

MR. DOERFLINGER:  I would rather think about it.  I came in late and was not here for the presentation and have not read the materials, and I will certainly study that as well.  Anything that achieves the promised scientific benefits without exploiting or destroying human life is something that the Church wants to have an open mind to, so I will certainly study that as well.

CHAIRMAN KASS:  Thank you very much.  I think we've done everything that we hoped to do at this meeting and more.  I thank our guests especially.  Thanks to council members.  Thanks to the members of the public and the meeting is adjourned.

(Whereupon, at 12:13 p.m. the above entitled matter concluded.)



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