Skip to comments.Med Center Ends Fetal Cell Research (Georgetown University)
Posted on 01/26/2004 10:40:14 AM PST by cpforlife.org
Top Catholic officials in the Washington Archdiocese have intervened at Georgetown University Medical Center to end the practice of research with cell lines derived from human embryos.
After discovering that Georgetown University medical researchers had been using aborted fetal cell lines for research, an outraged Debra Vinnedge, executive director of the non-profit group Children of God for Life, wrote Archbishop Theodore McCarrick, asking him to please intercede to stop the use of all aborted fetal cell lines at once.
Vinnedge had stumbled across a list of cell lines being used in research at the university while doing a search online. The Medical Center had listed all cell lines used in research on its Web site, and of those listed, four came from aborted fetuses.
The archbishop responded in a letter dated Dec. 15, 2003.
I have had this matter thoroughly investigated and am pleased to tell you that Georgetown University Medical Centers Tissue Bank is now well aware of the moral problems concerning use of certain cell lines and research involving tissue culture, he said. Most of the problems encountered have been resolved and I am peaceful that the concerns expressed in your letter are no longer valid.
Vinnedge is please with the archbishops response.
The right thing has been done as far as I can tell. Cardinal McCarrick told me that it has been taken care of, and I believe him, Vinnedge said.
In a press release issued yesterday, Executive Director of GUMC Communications Amy DeMaria said, GUMC addressed Cardinal McCarricks inquiry carefully and thoroughly. Our review concluded that research at the Medical Center is in compliance with the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services as well as moral theology. GUMC researchers like our counterparts at other Catholic and secular medical centers use tissue culture as a part of our ongoing efforts to find therapies for a range of illnesses including cancer, Alzheimers and heart and kidney diseases.
No other employees of the GUMC were available for comment. Moreover, the Tissue Culture Lab at the Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center declined to comment on any matter and could not verify whether or not those four specific cells lines mentioned were still or had ever been in the lab.
DeMaria said, however, that certain cell lines had been removed from the cell bank.
Although we were already in compliance with the directives, we felt it was prudent to remove from our tissue bank the four cell lines to make it absolutely clear that GUMC is committed to conducting research in a way that is in full compliance with the ERDs and Catholic moral teaching, she said. No research was disrupted in the removal of the cell lines.
Vinnedges letter to McCarrick detailed what she believed to be the immoral use of specific cells at the hospital. She included copies of the list of cells used that had been posted on the Web site by Georgetown, as well as six published journal articles detailing the uses of these cells for research, also obtained from the Web site.
The four cell lines allegedly used were HEK-293, IMR-90, MRC-5 and WI-38. The first is derived from the kidney of a fetus, while the other three came from human fetal lung tissue.
While many people may think that they have never personally used products derived from the cells of fetuses, most Americans have. IMR-90, MRC-5 and WI-38 are used to create vaccines for diseases such as chicken pox, rubella, hepatitis-A, rabies and polio. Of them, chicken pox is the only vaccine that has no alternative to the use of fetal cell lines.
Despite her anger at the situation, Vinnedge purposely did not go public with the news.
I didnt see reason to wreak a scandal on Georgetown unless they refused to take care of the problem, she said. Georgetown is one of the greatest Catholic Universities in this country. I just wanted the research to end.
The use of aborted fetal cell lines for research is also a big concern for campus group GU Right to Life. President Laura Peirson (COL 05) received an e-mail explaining that GUMC had been using cell lines from aborted fetuses for research.
I was shocked when I found out that this could happen at Georgetown, a Catholic university, she said. We support medical research and want progress as much as anyone, but in this case, the ends dont justify the means, no matter how noble the ends. We are pleased that this research has ended.
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Even some of the most enthusiastic boosters of embryo stem cell research see trouble ahead. For example, University of Pennsylvania bioethicist Glenn McGee admitted to Technology Review, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology publication, "The emerging truth in the lab is that pluripotent stem cells are hard to rein in. The potential that they would explode into a cancerous mass after a stem cell transplant might turn out to be the Pandora's box of stem cell research." Thus, it could be that adult tissue-specific stem cells are actually safer than their counterparts culled from embryos since, being extracted from mature cells, they may not exhibit the propensity for uncontrolled differentiation.
Catholic doctrine opposes abortion, but the university decided to let researchers who have been using the cells continue their work into treatments for illnesses such as Alzheimer's disease, diabetes and cancer.
The university's medical center said in a statement that the researchers did not know the origins of the cell lines, which are between 25 and 40 years old. Of the 18 researchers using the cell lines that were derived from aborted fetuses, 14 needed to continue using them in their research. Four others were able to use alternative lines.
The Rev. Kevin T. Fitzgerald, a university bioethicist and a research associate professor in the oncology department, said that "while using such cell lines would not be our preference," the Catholic Church's guidelines on research and health care and widely accepted theology allowed the research to continue.
Under those guidelines, the cell lines can be used because the research could lead to lifesaving cures, because the pregnancies were not ended in order to get the cell lines, and because "the connection to abortion was distant and remote enough so as to not encourage or contribute to abortion in any way," the university said.
The issue was first brought to the university's attention by Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, the archbishop of Washington, after he received a complaint from a Florida-based anti-abortion group. Archdiocese spokeswoman Susan Gibbs said Georgetown has acted properly.
"Georgetown reviewed the concerns the Cardinal raised, and we're comfortable, and the cardinal's comfortable with their response," Gibbs said. "A number of ethicists have reviewed it to ensure it's consistent with Catholic teaching."
Georgetown's use of cell lines from aborted fetuses was first reported by The Washington Post.