Thursday, August 24, 2006

Embryoinc Stem Cell Breakthrough or Shell Game?

Stem cell breakthrough to challenge Bush objections - World - Times Online

At the link is an article about the newly touted breakthrough in stem cell research. Adult stem cells and embryonic cord blood have already shown a great deal of promise in research. Embryonic stem cell research has lagged far behind and has serious scientific problems. But the most serious difficulty with embryonic stem cells is moral. Embryonic stem cell research normally requires the destruction of human beings in the embryo stage in order to harvest their stem cells. The new method claims to circumvent this moral problem by removing a few stem cells from a human being in the blastocyst stage without destroying the embryo itself. In this way it is possible to harvest stem cells without the destruction of the embryo.

Hugh Hewitt and Captain’s Quarters have pointed out that this is a victory of sorts because without moral pressure against embryonic stem cell research, it is probable that science would have made no serious attempt to find a way to harvest stem cells from embryos without embryonic destruction. But there may still be some problems with this new technique as applied.

First, the new technique in all probability risks serious damage to the embryo in question despite the fact that the technique claims to be relatively safe. Would we accept the morality of any technology that risked say, a one-in-twenty chance of death or serious injury to a human being with no actual benefit to the human being who was being put at risk? Second, I don’t really trust scientists utilizing this technique to keep the embryos that they do not kill when they harvest the stem cells. If scientists clone a human embryo, harvest stem cells from it without killing it, and then kill the embryo by throwing it away, they are still killing a human being as a result of their research. The only way for the research to be moral would be if the embryo were implanted and allowed to grow to term. But even then, there are moral problems, as discussed above, because of the risk posed to the embryo. If the embryo is an embryo produced by human cloning, these risks are multiplied many times over since cloning is not at the stage of science where it can be safely performed without serious risk of disease and other problems in the clone.

So, while this new technique may be less immoral than old fashioned embryonic stem cell research, it still is morally problematic. We should not rush to fund research using this technique apart from a variety of strict and probably unavailable assurances. Besides, adult stem cell research and cord blood research have proven far more fruitful. Why not spend public funds on ideas that work and are free from the risk of killing human beings “for science.”

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