Today's announcement that the world's first stem cell bank is being set up in the UK has been greeted with great concern by church commentators and pro-life groups. The bank will store stem cells taken from human embryos, both those cloned as well as those taken from embryos left over after IVF treatment. Archbishop Peter Smith, Chairman of the Department of Christian Responsibility and Citizenship of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of England & Wales, said: "There is nothing wrong with setting up a bank of stem cells taken from adults or from umbilical cords. Already stem cells from these sources are increasingly recognised as providing a basis for research and even treatments into diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's. "What is morally wrong is to create new human lives only then to destroy them by harvesting embryonic stem cells from them. We should support stem cell research and cell banks, but only if they use stem cells obtained without killing human embryos." Patrick Cusworth from LIFE said: "The practice of creating human embryos for destructive research is immoral for two reasons. First, reduces human life to little more than a pharmaceutical product. Secondly, it holds out false hopes of cures for sufferers of debilitating conditions. "The irony is that there is a better alternative to embryonic stem cells. Experiments using adult stem cells, that is, stem cells taken from various sources in the patient's own body, and cells taken from discarded umbilical cords, have already proved remarkably effective. "For example, in one such experiment using adult stem cells Parkinson's disease was improved by 81% in a human patient surely the most promising breakthrough since the condition was first diagnosed. In contrast, experiments using embryonic stem cells have proved disastrous, as they produce an extraordinarily high rate of tumours. One study has estimated the tumour formation using embryonic stem cells is between 75 and 100 per cent. Stem cells taken from embryos could prove to be devastating if used upon human patients. "Using human embryos as a tissue source is unethical, unnecessary and dangerous. "LIFE calls upon both the UK government and the HFEA to demonstrate its much publicised commitment to ethical standards in science and research by banning all practices which involve the wanton creation and destruction of human life. Science must exist to benefit humanity not the other way around., Josephine Quintavalle, director of Reproductive Ethics (CORE) said: "This initiative has been rushed through with cynical haste, minimum transparency and inadequate ethical protocols. There is not even an approved Code of Practice in place, a draft version in fact is still moving through the public consultation process, a schedule not reaching even its preliminary phase until the end of May. "An extremely hush-hush pilot scheme looking into embryo donation and consent is being undertaken with a limited number of willing IVF clinics, but we are light years away from knowing the outcome of this highly contentious collaboration. For any IVF clinic to be involved directly in embryo research is always going to be suspect, but when the research involves stem cells the conflicts of interest become insurmountable. There is nobody more vulnerable than patients with fertility problems and they should not be coerced into donating gametes or embryos for the benefit of the stem cell industry. "The gung-ho comments last week from HFEA inspector, Professor Alison Murdoch (who heads one of the two teams who have successfully deposited in the new bank) that she would do everything to encourage women to become donors, is a blatant example of the arrogance of those involved in the dual role of infertility specialist/stem cell researcher. Conflict of interest does not seem to be part of the ethical vocabulary. "The HFE Act of 1990, believe it or not, was devised to protect the human embryo and the regulatory role of the HFEA stems from this legal principle. The HFEA should do everything in its power to stop unnecessary destruction of these tiny human lives, instead it seems to be making every effort to facilitate their slaughter through questionable alliances with the Medical Research Council." The Society for the Protection of Unborn Children has also condemned the bank. A spokeswoman said: "A great many inflated, exaggerated promises are being made to render embryonic stem cell research acceptable to the public, but research based on the exploitation and destruction of human life at its earliest stages can never be justified. "It is a day of shame for Britain that we as a nation are leading the way in an area of science that disregards the most fundamental of human rights, the right to life. SPUC gives wholehearted support to ethical research using adult stem cells which already offers genuine promise to those suffering from debilitating conditions such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and diabetes. Killing embryos has yet to provide any benefit."
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