“Nothing other than a cell with the required epigenetic primordia is capable of receiving a human substantial form.”
Since publishing a joint statement signed by 35 ethicists and scientists, there has been some criticism of the position.1 As signatories of this statement we would like to respond to some of these criticisms. First, however, for those who may not have read the original statement or the critiques, we will briefly summarize them.
Our original statement outlined a proposal for using a form of Altered Nuclear Transfer (ANT), in other words OAR, which we believe would allow the production of pluripotent stem cells without creating and destroying embryos. We must emphasize that this proposal is for initial research using only non-human animal cells. We stated that further research with human cells would only be allowed to proceed if it can be established beyond a reasonable doubt that no embryo is formed. Our initial analysis seemed to indicate that this was a distinct possibility.
To put it briefly, OAR is based upon our position that the nature of a cell is defined by its epigenetic state, in other words, which subset of the approximately 30,000 human genes are turned on or off and if turned on, at what level. The protein called “Nanog” is present in pluripotent embryonic stem cells, is not present in the oocyte (ovum) or zygote (single cell embryo), but is present in the inner cell mass (ICM) of the blastocyst (approximately a week-old embryo). Thus, this OAR proposal will evaluate whether it is possible to reprogram a somatic nucleus inserted into an enucleated oocyte, to immediately produce pluripotent stem cells by turning on the relevant gene in chromosome 7, and, thereby, bypassing the formation of an embryo.
There have been several criticisms leveled against this proposal. The first was published by Communio editor, David Schindler.2 A second critique was proffered by neurologists William Burke, M.D. and Patrick Pullicino, M.D. together with ethicist Fr. Edward Richard published in the web-based magazine Women for Faith and Family, on 15 August 2005 and entitled, “Is Oocyte Assisted Reprogramming (OAR) a Moral Procedure to Retrieve Embryonic Stem Cells?”3 A third is by Catholic journalist Vivian W. Dudro, published in the online magazine Ignatius Insight.4 Dudro’s article is essentially a popularization of the first two critiques. There is some overlap among these articles, especially the third with the first two. Here we have space only to briefly summarize some of the most salient criticisms.
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1. “Production of Pluripotent Stem Cells by Oocyte Assisted Reprogramming,” Origins 35, no. 8 (7 July 2005): 126–128.
2. David L. Schindler, “A Response to the Joint Statement, ‘Production of Pluripotent Stem Cells by Oocyte Assisted Reprogramming,’” Communio 32, no. 2 (Summer 2005): 369–380.
3. William Burke, Patrick Pullicino, and Edward Richard, “Moral Dilemmas in Stem Cell Research: Is Oocyte Assisted Reprogramming (OAR) a Moral Procedure to Retrieve Embryonic Stem Cells?” Voices 20, no. 2 (15 August 2005) available at http://www.wf-f.org/05-2-OAR-StemCells.html; accessed 26 October 2005.