MICHELE NORRIS: To find out more about how this new development will affect the moral issues surrounding stem cell research, we're joined by two people who've been in thick of that ethical debate. Sean Tipton is the president of the Coalition for the Advancement of Medical Research and Richard Doerflinger is deputy director of Pro-Life Activities for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Welcome to both of you.
SEAN TIPTON: Thank you.
RICHARD DOERFLINGER: Thank you.
NORRIS: First, I'd like to hear what you both think of this research - just quickly. I want to begin with you Mr. Tipton.
TIPTON: Well I think is very exciting work. I mean, these are two well- known laboratories in the field who have done some excellent research. But I think we need to make sure and pursue all the avenues of research. The investigators themselves state in their papers that this is very preliminary work and there's a lot that still needs to be done before we can say that these actually do provide equivalent characteristics for embryonic stem cell research.
NORRIS: So you're saying good news but you would also like scientists to move forward with stem cell research using cells derived from human embryo?
TIPTON: That's correct. I think this news is good. But I think that we have to keep in mind the mission, and that is we're looking to use these tissues to regenerate parts of people's bodies that have suffered from debilitating disease or injury. And we don't know yet what the best source for those therapeutic options is going to be. So I think we need to pursue all the avenues until we get that answer.
NORRIS: And, Richard Doerflinger, your assessment of this development?
DOERFLINGER: I agree with Mr. Tipton that this is very exciting. I think it's something more than that. Some of the scientists themselves have begun to say that it very much seems this new approach of adult cell reprogramming is going to replace stem cell research based on destroying human embryos. And that's very good news for everyone because the field of stem cell research has divided our nation. It's divided people all over the world. And if you have a morally acceptable way to get these benefits, it is a win for everybody. It is good science and good ethics.
NORRIS: Now, you stated that this development will lead to the replacement of stem cell research using human embryos. You stated that as fact. Is that indeed the case?
DOERFLINGER: I'm saying that that's what many of the scientists are now predicting. I think we need to put this is a context. If the moral issue has any significance at all, which it does to millions of Americans and others, then it should certainly lead us to especially give attention and priority to research that is promising, is so far a successful in producing cells that the researchers themselves say - by all the test they've done - have all the properties of embryonic stem cells, but don't raise this moral issue at all.
NORRIS: Is this the green light that we're hearing from Mr. Doerflinger?
TIPTON: Mr. Doerflinger, in history, has some moral problems with pursuing embryonic stem cell research and I think that's fine. They don't need to do it. They don't need to participate in it. They don't need to benefit from it. But we live in a pluralistic country where lots people have lots of differing moral of at least about a lot of things. If you take these papers, for example, the lab in Wisconsin used two sources of cells, one was fetal cells, which some people are going to have an objection to another was foreskins from recently circumcised infants. I know that there are people with moral objections to that.
So I think we have a lot of different people and organization who have different aspects of the morality research that bothers them. I think in a pluralistic nation we should move forward and let people make their own individual choices. If people don't want to benefit from this research they shouldn't have to use the products, but they shouldn't be allowed to keep me from getting the benefit of that knowledge.
DOERFLINGER: So you're going to abandon your efforts to force me to pay my tax dollars for this, is that right?
TIPTON: Well I think...
DOERFLINGER: That's the only way you'd be seizing to make me participate in it.
TIPTON: I think we allow people to do that through the Democratic process and the Congress of the United States and the clear majority of the American people support federal funding for embryonic stem cell research and the oversight which would accompany it.
NORRIS: You even - have argued against the limits that the White House has placed on stem cell research and you'd said that has hampered scientists, that they are forced to use what you call a sub-optimal tools in their research. Does this development, perhaps, undermine your argument? Has it also led to this kind of innovation?
TIPTON: Well, I think we are interested, and the millions of Americans with these diseases who might be helped are interested, in getting to the finish line of therapies. If it's a race for cures for these kinds of diseases then we'd want to say, okay, let's see which gets us there fastest - embryonic cell research, adult genes cell research or reprogrammed adult cells.
We don't care who wins that race. We want the race run successfully as quickly as possible. Mr. Doerflinger would say, let's not let embryonic stem-cell research compete. And, in fact, if the other two models can't complete the race, let's still not let embryonic stem-cell research complete.
DOERFLINGER: This is pretty much nonsense. One point seven billion dollars, U.S., has already been spent on embryonic stem-cell research according to the Rockefeller Institute's latest study. It's not a question of it not getting funding. It's gotten funding. It just hasn't worked. Embryonic stem cells are not ready, may not be ready for decades for treating human diseases, and it has its day. The reprogrammed cells are, by any test that anyone has been able to do, the functional equivalent of embryonic stem cells without the moral problem, we can indeed move forward.
NORRIS: Now, are either of you concerned about the validity of this research? I mean, we have been in a place like this before with the research done overseas. We've seen false starts in the past. So you're all concerned about that?
TIPTON: You know, I think both of these papers come from very reputable laboratories and very reputable scientists. So I think it's clear that they did what they claim that they did. I think the question is, can this be replicated? Will it prove, in fact, that these are capable of everything that embryonic stem cells are capable of? So I think we need to do the work and let scientists, not those with moral objections to the research, but let scientists tell us what the answer is.
DOERFLINGER: I don't think we should let scientists alone tell us what the moral or policy answer is. This is too important. It involves all of us in society including the people that Mr. Tipton wants to ignore the objections of to destroying life in the name of progress. We can do this better ways. The scientists themselves have begun to show us the better ways and we should all be praising this development.
NORRIS: Based on this research, this new development, how will the arguments that you make on Capitol Hill be received? Does it change the argument that you make and does it change the effectiveness of that argument, Mr. Doerflinger?
DOERFLINGER: I think the argument we've been making all along is that there are serious moral concerns here and that there are better ways to advance medical progress including very promising treatments for patients of devastating diseases without raising this moral concern. This is just another development that makes that argument better grounded and more persuasive than before.
NORRIS: Mr. Tipton.
TIPTON: Well, I think the research this week will move the debate forward. I think that they show the great potential of regenerative medicine using a whole number of sources. And I think we will continue to argue for pushing forward so we can get to the answers more quickly.
NORRIS: Richard Doerflinger, Sean Tipton, thanks to both of you.
TIPTON: You're welcome.
DOERFLINGER: Thank you.
NORRIS: Sean Tipton is the president of the Coalition for the Advancement of Medical Research and Richard Doerflinger is deputy director of Pro-Life Activities for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
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NORRIS: And there's a timeline of key discoveries in stem-cell research at npr.org.