“I believe that life begins at the moment of conception, not from first heartbeat,” said Lauren Pruss, a sophomore from Fremont. “[The embryo] has a soul and feelings. Creating life in a test tube and then destroying it—That’s murder.”
Pruss, a speech pathology major, stands very far to the right on the topic of embryonic stem cell research.
In contrast, Dr. David Crouse, a professor of genetics, cell biology and anatomy at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, stands on the opposite end of the spectrum of embryonic stem cell research.
“Embryonic stem cells have a huge potential to cure many diseases that cannot be treated by other means,” Crouse said.
“I’m not a scientist,” Pruss said. “I don’t know all the answers. But I do know this: a sperm and an egg together creates life. God gives everybody a soul at conception. If you could make a life without a soul, then I’d be for it. But that’s not how it works. It’s a life. It’s a person.”
The source of embryonic stem cells, which were first isolated in 1998, is human eggs that have been fertilized in a laboratory for in vitro reproductive procedures. Embryonic stem cells, in the pre-implantation embryos, are the foundation for cells for organs and tissues. They program themselves and can develop to perform any number of specialized tasks, and because of this they may have potential therapeutic value.
“I think it is a nice ‘idea,’” Pruss said. “How cool would it be to make livers and cure Parkinson’s? That is awesome. But I am against it because the second you fertilize an egg, it becomes a life.”
Adult stem cells are found in tissues that have already developed. The primary roles of adult stem cells in a living organism are to maintain and repair the tissue in which they are found. Blood stem cells now are routinely used as replacements for bone marrow and stem cell transplants to successfully treat such cancers as leukemia and lymphoma. Scientists have worked with adult stem cells for the past 40 years to achieve this level of understanding and application, Crouse said.
“I’m OK with people who donate their bodies for scientific research and miscarriage children,” Pruss said. “Those who willingly donated their bodies had the opportunity to experience life, unlike the scientifically-created embryos. I say miscarried babies because God chose to take them to heaven, so now it’s just a body and no longer a life.”
According to Crouse, embryonic stem cell research has shown promise in the treatment of many diseases including diabetes, Parkinson’s disease and several other devastating conditions. The practice also has come under fire from opponents who claim it destroys embryos, and thus life.
“We’re very early in the process of understanding these cells and knowing how they may be used most effectively,” Crouse said. “There may also be new potential therapeutic uses for adult stem cells. There is still much to learn.”
Crouse said that scientific researchers want to use embryonic stem cells because “more than 400,000 eggs remained frozen, and they were not going to be used for reproductive purposes." “Although some could be used for adoption, which I think is a very honorable thing to do, the others are thrown out on a drying pad and tossed away with medical waste. Scientifically, it is more ethical to use cells that may benefit mankind, because it’s the only way, than to discard the embryos,” he said.
“It’s not just extra eggs in a lab. It’s someone’s child that the mother, doctor and stem cell researcher killed,” Pruss said. “It was a life, not just an egg. It was a person who would have grown up to have feelings, dreams and goals.”
In 2009, President Barrack Obama signed an executive order to free up the use of federal funds to access stem cell lines created after Aug. 9, 2001, the day former President George W. Bush signed an executive order that limited the use of federal dollars for embryonic stem cell research.
The change in federal policy complements current state laws and Board of Regents policy regarding embryonic stem cell research. Due to the change, UNMC scientists now have access to submit competitive proposals to use the new federally approved stem cell lines.
“Even though we are now approved to research new stem cell lines, we are still very limited.” In contrast, “Private organizations can basically do whatever they want,” Crouse said.
“I would be all for it if they could do this by other means,” Pruss said. “I’m sure they could find more humane ways to help people. It might be harder and take more work, but it’s worth saving souls.”