Oops! stem cells weren’t from adults after all

Sports heroes' treatment was actually derived from brain of aborted baby
Gordie Howe celebrates his 87th birthday on March 31. (Photo: Courtesy of Howe family)

Gordie Howe celebrates his 87th birthday on March 31.
(Photo: Courtesy of Howe family)

The following comes from a May 28 Christian News Wire article by Jennifer Kimball Watson:

The San Diego-based biotech company, Stemedica Cell Technologies, recently received attention for providing the “adult” neural stem cells that treated two sports heroes, hockey legend Gordie Howe and football MVP John Brodie. But USA Today recently broke a story showing that the so-called “adult” stem cells provided to the two sports heroes were derived from the harvested brain tissue of a fetus aborted at 14-16 weeks gestational age.

We know that to some in the scientific community, stem cells from the body of a fetus at 14 weeks are referred to as “adult” in that they originate from tissues that are more or less differentiated, meaning the cells no longer have the potency to develop into other types of cells. But in the minds of most people, and those of us who have followed closely or academically engaged in the stem cell debate over the years, the “adult” terminology implies that the stem cells are derived in morally unobjectionable ways. The cells cultured by Stemedica and used by athletes Howe and Brodie, would more accurately be referred to as “prenatal differentiated neural cells.” Once a stem cell has become differentiated, it is no longer a stem cell.

Stemedica's CEO, Maynard A. Howe

Stemedica’s CEO, Maynard A. Howe (photo: youtube.com screengrab)

When Stemedica’s CEO, Maynard A. Howe, was confronted with the possible confusion, he said, “We don’t use the word fetal too much. We just don’t want to get people confused about what it is.” But his company’s failure to frankly reveal the tainted origins of the neural stem cells has led to considerable confusion, especially among those who believed that Stemedica was engaged in unobjectionable stem cell research. Indeed, it has led some to suspect that Stemedica was deliberately hiding the controversial information in order to avoid controversy. This suspicion is confirmed by the fact that when an ESPN talk show host interviewing Howe last January said to the Stemedica CEO, “Your firm uses the stem cells that are donated by adult volunteers,” Howe did not correct him. We would like to ask Mr. Howe, in what sense an aborted fetus is an “adult volunteer?”

Monsignor Jacques Suaudeneau (photo: Lauren Cater/CNA)

Monsignor Jacques Suaudeau (photo: Lauren Cater/CNA)

In a memo released by Stemedica in response to the controversy, one of the “talking points” reads: “[According to the Catholic Church], if it is a question of protecting the whole population and avoiding death and malformation in others that is more important than abstaining from vaccines developed from fetal tissue sources.” The statement was apparently made by Monsignor Jacques Suaudeau, member of the Pontifical Academy for Life.

Two things about this statement should be noted. First, individual members of the Pontifical Academy do not speak authoritatively on behalf of the Catholic Church. Second, the talking point actually misrepresents the position of the academy. Suaudeau’s comments draw upon a Pontifical Academy for Life text published in 2005 entitled “Moral Reflections On Vaccines Prepared from Cells Derived from Aborted Human Foetuses.” Presuming we may apply its ethical analysis to the area of stem cell preparation and marketing, we see that the text does not sanction the behavior Stemedica suggests; the text actually states clearly that “the preparation, distribution and marketing of vaccines [in this case, stem cell therapies] produced as a result of the use of biological material whose origin is connected with cells coming from foetuses voluntarily aborted, such a process is stated, as a matter of principle, morally illicit, because it could contribute in encouraging the performance of other voluntary abortions, with the purpose of the production of such vaccines.”

The only grounds for permissibility mentioned in the document was for the “use” of the vaccines, and then only by children whose parents reasonably believe that a decision not to vaccinate would expose the children or the wider community to “considerable dangers to their health.” In such an instance, the text says, vaccines may “be used on a temporary basis,” presuming the parents fulfill “the moral duty to continue to fight and to employ every lawful means in order to make life difficult for the pharmaceutical industries which act unscrupulously and unethically.” And to rule out any possible misunderstanding of its meaning, the text adds: “[this limited example of] the lawfulness of the use of these vaccines should not be misinterpreted as a declaration of the lawfulness of their production, marketing and use.”

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  1. Anonymous says:

    When are (Bishops) and Priests going to start reading the “Catechism of the Catholic Church, second edition” prior to making public statements ?
    Some sound like a bunch of Protestants.

    CCC: ” 2275 One must hold as licit procedures carried out on the human embryo which respect the life and integrity of the embryo and do not involve disproportionate risks for it, but are directed toward its healing the improvement of its condition of health, or its individual survival.
    It is immoral to produce human embryos intended for exploitation as disposable biological material.
    Certain attempts to influence chromosomic or genetic inheritance are not therapeutic but are aimed at producing human beings selected according to sex or other…

  2. Your Fellow Catholic says:

    Couple points here in under 750 characters:

    I think most people would agree that cells from a differentieated 14 week fetus are morally different from the conceived cell, the two cell embryo, the 16 cell embryo, the 48 cell embryo. By 14 weeks, cardiac cells beat, muscle cells contract. i don’t know when human life begins. I’m pretty sure it was not when the unfertilized egg is waiting for suitors, and I’m pretty sure it is before the woman gives birth. I think almost everyone can agree about that.

    But the notion that vaccines made from aborted cell lines are illicit because it might cause others to abort is specious, at best. It would take a fifth grader to knock it down on logical argument. Are there any fifth graders around who…

  3. Anonymous says:

    This article needs to clarify what Msgr. Suaudeau actually said. http://www.cogforlife.org/2005/08/03/vatican-official-clarifies-his-position/

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