On ABC's This Week, George Will misrepresented a reported scientific breakthrough that would allow scientists to grow embryonic stem-cell lines without destroying the embryo. Will dismissed the finding, stating, "[I]n fact, it isn't true. All 16 embryos involved in this were destroyed." However, in making the assertion, Will conflated two issues: whether embryonic cells can be removed without destroying the embryo and whether stem-cell lines could be created from those cells. The first is well established; it was the second that ACT announced.
On the August 27 edition of ABC's This Week, Washington Post columnist George F. Will misrepresented a reported scientific breakthrough by Advanced Cell Technology Inc. (ACT): the ability to grow embryonic stem-cell lines without destroying the embryo.
Asked by host George Stephanopoulos about the "potentially major development" that the scientists had "announced that they might have come up with a procedure that would allow you to create stem cells without destroying the embryo," and whether that might "end the debate" over the use of embryonic stem cells, Will replied: "[I]n fact, it isn't true. All 16 embryos involved in this were destroyed." In making the assertion, Will conflated two issues: whether embryonic cells can be removed without destroying the embryo and whether stem-cell lines could be created from those cells. The first is well established; it was the second that ACT announced.
While it is true that the researchers who conducted the ACT study destroyed all 16 embryos from which they derived cell lines, according to lead researcher Robert Lanza, "It is well established that a single cell can be removed from an eight-cell human embryo without causing any apparent harm to the embryo, and the new report aimed only to show that such single cells can become stem cells," as The Washington Post reported on August 26. The Post further noted that according to Lanza, "In the experiments, the scientists took as many cells as they could from each embryo, destroying them in the process, to make the most of the embryos donated for their study." On August 24, the Post reported that of the 91 cells removed from the 16 embryos, "53 of the cells began to divide and two formed robust colonies of what appear to be, by all tests, embryonic stem cells." The new study claims to prove the ability to take just one cell from an eight-cell embryo to make a stem-cell line; the new approach of taking a cell, known as a blastomere, from a two-day old embryo would allow the embryo to continue to develop. The current method of harvesting stem-cell lines takes cells from a blastocyst -- an embryo containing around 150 cells -- results in the destruction of the embryo. In an August 23 press release on the ACT website, Lanza summarized the significance of his group's study: "We have demonstrated, for the first time, that human embryonic stem cells can be generated without interfering with the embryo's potential for life."
Will's claim that scientists have yet to grow embryonic stem-cell lines without destroying the embryo echoed Richard M. Doerflinger, deputy director of the Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, who claimed: "Researchers did not safely remove single cells from early embryos, but destroyed 16 embryos in a desperate effort to obtain an average of six cells from each one. This experiment left no embryos alive, and solves no ethical problem."
From the August 27 edition of This Week with George Stephanopoulos:
STEPHANOPOULOS: And will that tolerance extend to other issues? I want to get to something else before we go. A potentially major development in stem-cell research this week. A company called Advanced Technologies, which in the past has said that it was cloning embryos, it turned out not to be true -- announced that they might have come up with a procedure that would allow you to create stem cells without destroying the embryo. George Will, if this is true, if it works, it ends the debate, doesn't it?
WILL: Two ifs -- but before we get to those ifs -- in fact, it isn't true. All 16 embryos involved in this were destroyed. Which the headlines and the hype -- this is a genius of a company getting journalists to write all this stuff. If it works, it might change the debate. But there will always be many people of good conscience who will say you shouldn't manipulate embryos, period. But --
STEPHANOPOULOS: But that would rule out in vitro fertilization.
WILL: It would rule out all kinds of things. So this would be a big development if it ever happens. It has not happened yet that you can remove these cells without destroying the embryos. Those -- all 16 were destroyed.