DALLAS -- The American Heart Association is considering endorsing and even paying for research of embryonic stem cells, the building blocks of all human tissue typically derived from aborted fetuses or human embryos.
The research could bring breakthroughs for people suffering from ailments including heart diseases and strokes, medical experts said. But moral and ethical questions persist from opponents who say using the stem cells is exploitative, given their sources.
''We're creating a whole new market for these babies,'' said Kyleen Wright, president for the Texans for Life Coalition, which opposes abortion.
An eight-member task force, appointed by the Dallas-based nonprofit association early last year, plans to make a recommendation to the association's board on Sunday. David Livingston, the association's corporate secretary, would not disclose the task force's decision.
The stem cell panel includes scientists, a bioethicist and association advocates familiar with the issue, Livingston said. Since last fall, panelists have interviewed scientific councils and research organizations, Livingston said.
Board approval would let the heart association use donor dollars to finance research through various organizations, Livingston said.
Dr. Rose Marie Robertson, the association's president-elect, said she cannot predict the board's vote, though members seriously consider task force recommendations.
''These are people who are absolutely dedicated to preventing death or disability'' from heart diseases, said Robertson, a professor of medicine at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn.
Stem cells are the body's master cells, programmed to produce different body parts. Scientists have long culled different kinds of stem cells circulating in the adult body, and ongoing experiments are aimed at manipulating those cells to regenerate bone, muscle and even brain cells.
''Pluripotent stem cells,'' the earliest-stage type, are the only ones that can grow into any tissue in the body. They only come from embryos, from either very early-stage abortions or donations by women who have embryos left over after fertility treatments. (Some private companies are growing ''cell lines,'' multiplying an initial batch of stem cells for future research.)
The association is interested in the research because stem cells could eventually be cultivated to become cardiac tissue, then transplanted into failing or weakened hearts.
Livingston and other experts say the decision to have an abortion or discard an embryo is made independently and before any research or transplants would take place.
''But it is a very difficult issue,'' Livingston said. ''There are a lot of ethical and moral views to consider.''
On the Net:
American Heart Association: www.americanheart.org
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