New Texas cancer research funding being watched by Christian ethicists, lawyers

AUSTIN?Issues of when life begins came to the forefront after Texas voters passed Proposition 15 during the Nov. 6 elections. Proposition 15 enacted a state constitutional amendment authorizing the Texas Public Finance Authority to issue up to $3 billion in general obligation bonds? but not exceeding $300 million per year?on behalf of the newly-created Cancer Research and Prevention Institute.

A House Research Office digest summary of Proposition 15 stated: “The Institute would support researchers in finding the causes of and cures for all types of cancer in humans, provide grants for cancer research and research facilities, and establish the appropriate standards and oversight bodies to ensure the proper use of funds.”

Although Proposition 15 contained no direct references to embryonic stem cell research, cancer researchers in Texas are looking to embryonic stem cells as a source for seeking cures for cancer. In September, for example, the Baylor College of Medicine announced receipt of an $8.7 million grant from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences intended to “kick-start research with human embryonic stem cells in Texas.”

On the federal level, President George Bush has resisted federally funding the harvesting of embryos for their stem cells, and he has limited federal funding of embryonic stem cell research to certain already established “lines” of stem cells. In connection with Proposition 15, Texas Gov. Rick Perry has stated his opposition to using the $3 billion for cancer research for human embryonic stem cell research.

The problem with Proposition 15, said Kelly Shackelford, president and general counsel of the Free
Market Foundation, is that in Texas there is no legislation, written policies or guidelines in effect to regulate how this cancer research money may be disbursed.

According to the National Institutes of Health’s stem cell information website, stem cells are cells that can divide in a culture for indefinite periods of time.

Totipotent stem cells have the potential, under the right conditions, to develop into any cell type that makes up the human body. Multipotent stem cells can develop into a limited number of cells.
Pluripotent stem cells “give rise to any type of cell in the body except those needed to develop a fetus.” Totipotent and pluripotent stem cells attract the most attention.

Embryonic stem cells come from human embryos?fertilized human eggs that contain DNA from the father and mother and a complete genetic blueprint for a unique human being?that are a few days old. This is why some Baptist ethicists and public policy advocates in Texas believe embryonic stem cell research is wrong.

“If you believe that life begins at conception, what happens with embryonic stem cell research is you wind up cloning and killing human embryos,” said Craig Mitchell, assistant professor of ethics at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. “What they are doing is playing with human life.”

The Free Market Foundation’s Shackelford said: “Because of President Bush’s restriction on using federal taxpayer money for cloning an embryo to grab its stem cells, most people assume it is that way in Texas. In fact, we don’t currently have anything in Texas that prohibits state money from being used that way.”

But proponents of embryonic stem cell research do not think there should be any restrictions on state funding, regardless of whether the authorizing legislation comes through Proposition 15 or somewhere else. Kathy Miller, president of the Texas Freedom Network, criticized public policy groups that spoke against Proposition 15 funds being used for embryonic stem cell research.

“These cynical attacks on funding for cancer research are an example of political extremism at its worst,” Miller said in a press release two days after the election. “Once again we see pressure groups pushing political obstacles in the way of sound science and hope for so many patients fighting for their lives.”

Dan Quinn, Texas Freedom Network’s director of communications, told the TEXAN there is a fundamental disagreement between proponents and opponents of embryonic stem cell research centering on the basic issue of when human life begins.

“Those that support it do not believe they are terminating a life,” Quinn said. “We are talking about a small number of cells that are allowed to grow in a dish. There is no intention of implanting them into a womb; they are never implanted into a womb.”

Mitchell and Shackelford both said research arising from adult stem cells has netted many cures and medical benefits. Mitchell said there are no such ethical issues with regard to use of adult stem cells. Shackelford said adult stem cell research is where Texas should concentrate its efforts.

“Since we have all this money for cancer research, we could make Texas the national leader in adult stem cell research,” he said. “The money could be funneled into something that is good and is really working.”

Mitchell said he hopes tax-paying Texas Baptists carefully consider how their cancer research money is spent.

“We should not give the Cancer Research and Prevention Institute a blank check to spend that money any way they want,” Mitchell said. “We should instead place some boundaries regarding how they can use this money and on what sort of research they can do ? Not only is it a concern for morality and human life, it is also about the morality of wasting tax dollars.”

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