W A S H I N G T O N, April 27, 2001 -- Opponents of abortion rights are touting a recent study as proof human embryos are needed to perform stem cell research.
The use of stem cells taken from aborted fetuses is opposed by many religious and anti-abortion organizations who argue the controversial practice is immoral.
"It is wrong," says Patrick Delaney of the American Life League. "It is the killing of an innocent human person in the embryonic state of development and therefore we stand against it."
Seizing on a study published earlier this month in the medical journal Tissue Engineering, groups like the American Life League are now arguing the practice is scientifically unnecessary.
The team of researchers from the University of California at Los Angeles and the University of Pittsburgh who conducted the study reported that ordinary human fat may produce stem cells. If human fat is in fact a rich source of stem cells, it could mean scientists could avoid using cells from human embryos.
"The study on fat showed that stem cells can be extracted from adult sources and therefore it renders embryonic stem cell research certainly unnecessary," insists Delaney.
'Do the Right Thing,' Says Pro-Research Activist
But activist Molly Naylor studies all the research and believes passionately that embryonic stem cells are the most reliable hope for her son, Brad, who suffers from juvenile diabetes. She called the Bush administration — which opposes the use of embryonic stem cells — to make that point.
"The White House is under pressure from vocal, small groups of people who don't want this to go forward," Naylor says. "I want the president and the White House to do the right thing."
But a White House aide told Naylor to look at other forms of research. And that's exactly what many conservative lawmakers are saying on Capitol Hill.
"It is becoming more and more difficult to defend medical research which uses tissue derived from abortions or from the destruction of human embryos, when breakthroughs using alternative sources of tissue are being made in the medical research community," reads a letter distributed to colleagues by Sens. Bob Smith, R-N.H., Sam Brownback, R-Kan., and Tim Hutchinson, R-Ark.
The White House has signaled that it may not allow federal funding for any embryonic stem cell research. But some academic leaders are starting to speak out, arguing it is wrong to allow a particular religious view to shape scientific policy.
"Policy has to have a moral root to it but I don't think it is appropriate that the particular religious views of a particular group of people are the dominant moral position of our politicians," says Dr. David Baltimore, president of CalTech. "[It's] one of the most exciting things that has happened in science and we are not allowed to study it."
Most scientists agree there are big questions about whether fat really can produce stem cells.