Monday, March 09, 2009

Brave New World

When President Bush signed into law the ban that allowed for federal tax money to be used to experiment on new lines of embryonic stem cells, he had a number of children with him. These children had all been frozen embryos in a freezer at one time, left over from fertility treatments, who were adopted by infertile couples. Bush refused to use government money to allow anymore more little ones such as these to be cruelly used in the name of science.**

Today is a sad day for America. Today President Obama reversed the ban and now my tax dollars and yours will be used to experiment on human life. The fact that a human embryo is a human being is absolutely undeniable. I have never even heard a scientific attempt to deny that fact. So we have to look today square in the eyes and realize this is a day where the strong prey on the weak. If there is the possibility that the helpless may have something to give the strong, their lives are forfeit.

Among the coverage of the news today, one thing that appeared to be lacking was the admittance that other kinds of stem cells have showed great promise. Just last week, the headlines were that there is a kind of stem cell that is the biological equivalent to an embryonic stem cell, called an “induced pluripotent stem-cell.” Here’s a U.S. News and World Report article claiming:

“Human stem cells now can be made from adult skin, without using embryos or eggs. Known by the rather clunky name "induced pluripotent stem cells," the new reations look and behave like embryonic stem cells taken from seven-day-old embryos; both are able to turn into any type of cell in the body—skin, heart, liver, nerve, you name it. Even better, iPS cells' DNA matches that of the person who provides the skin, which is crucial if the cells are to be used to replace that person's own destroyed or damaged tissue.” "
Sounds great to me. So why are we destroying humans?

I find myself wondering, who are these people who can actually bring themselves to play Frankenstein with a baby? It is encouraging to read of two people who got cold feet:

In 2007, when the great breakthrough of induced pluripotent stem cell technology was announced, both of the scientists behind the new technique explained the moral concerns that drove their research. Dr. Shinya Yamanaka told the New York Times: "When I saw the embryo, I suddenly realized there was such a small difference between it and my daughters. I thought, we can't keep destroying embryos for our research. There must be another way." At the same time, Dr. James Thomson, the original discoverer of embryonic stem cells, told the Times: "If human embryonic stem cell research does not make you at least a little bit uncomfortable, you have not thought about it enough. I thought long and hard about whether I would do it.

First, they're cheaper and easier to work with than cells produced by killing human embryos. Not surprisingly, hundreds of labs have made the switch from embryonic stem cells to induced pluripotent ones.

Second, and very importantly, induced pluripotent stem cells are patient specific. As anyone familiar with organ transplants knows, immune rejection is a major hurdle to any form of regenerative medicine. Induced pluripotent stem cells clear this hurdle because they can be created using the patient's own skin cells; thus they will have his exact DNA sequence and will not be prone to immune rejection. For embryonic stem cells to do the equivalent, they would have to be created from an embryo produced by human cloning. Clearly, then, Bush's critics were being disingenuous when they claimed to want only the IVF "spares"--embryos that "were going to die anyway." While those might have been the first cells needed for basic research, any therapeutic uses would require patient-specific cells, attainable only by cloning. That would open up ethical debates over human cloning and killing--and debates about the ethics and safety of encouraging (or paying) women to subject themselves to hormonal stimulation to produce eggs for use in the cloning process. Using induced pluripotent stem cells avoids all of these problems. (Read the rest here. )

Among all the discussion of this volatile topic, one question I haven’t heard tackled is: What if it is discovered that there is amazing promise to be found in these embryos? What if the cure to all the world’s illness can be solved by creating human life, a tiny unique baby, one with characteristics and gifts that the world will never again see, made in the image of God and then in destroying this special person? So now what? Do we just let loose, create millions of babies and destroy them all for health purposes? It appears that we won't have to face that since other stem cells are more promising. Yet, I feel strongly it would still be wrong if there was no alternative.

For a great scientific discussion on the nature of the human embryo, read What’s In the Refrigerator. There was a court case in which a couple had embryos created for fertility purposes and the couple later divorced. The wife remarried and wanted to use the embryos and her first husband, the biological father objected. The world-famous geneticist who discovered down’s syndrome, Jerome Lejeune, ws called to testify to the nature of the human embryo. His arguments use pure science, no ethics, religion or politics involved.

The transcript of the court proceedings is very long so wait for a night when you have several hours with no distractions before you plan on tackling it. It is also very scientifically weighty. I believe any layman can handle it, but not without a lot of concentration. Here is a short section to whet your appetite (emphasis mine):

If we stop the process, if we slow down the movement of the molecules, we progressively come to a relative standstill, and when the embryo is frozen, these tiny human beings, they are very small, one millimeter and a half of a dimension, a sphere a millimeter and a half, you can put them in cannisters by the thousands. And then with the due connotation, the fact of putting inside a very chilly space, tiny human beings who are deprived of any liberty, of any movement, even they are deprived of time, (time is frozen for them), make them surviving, so to speak, in a suspended time, in a concentration can. It's not as hospitable and prepared to life as would be the secret temple which is inside the female body that is a womb which is by far much better equipped physiologically, chemically, and I would say intellectually than our best laboratories for the development of a new human being.

That is the reason why thinking about those things, I was deeply moved when you honed to me, knowing that Madame, the mother, wanted to rescue babies from this
concentration can. And to give to the baby—I would not use term baby, it is not perfectly accurate, not good English—would offer to those early human beings, her own flesh, the hospitality that she is the best in the world to give them. And because Mr. Palmer told me on the phone that it had been said that if you, Madame, were not entitled to give this shelter to the baby—to the early human beings, (being perfectly correct in what I mean)—you would prefer that they would be enjoying another shelter and not being left inside the concentration can, or destroyed. And I was impressed because it remembered me of an extraordinary trial which has occurred more than two thousand years ago, and I could not believe it could occur again, that two persons will discuss whether it's better to have an early human being alive and given to a certain person or another person would prefer the baby not being alive at all. And to the best of my recollection this judgment has been considered as a paragon of justice when Solomon did it. I was not thinking I would come from Paris to speak in Tennessee about a two thousand years old trial. But I realized when you phoned to me, it was the first time it was arising in this earth with a very early human being, because before early human beings were not in our reach, they were protected inside the secret temple. And then I felt it was opportunity that a geneticist was going to tell you what our own science tells us.

After this, the article gets very scientific. My reason for quoting this is to show that here is no question in science that we are actually experimenting on human beings.

**The Bush Administration was the first to allow money to be used for embryonic stem cell research, but only on lines that had already been destroyed. Here is a clip of Bush explaining the difference.

1 comment:

Laura said...

This makes me so sad. No one made a big deal about the pluripotent stem cell discovery when it was made. This issue is more about politics than about science. The issue to rejection is HUGE, and makes a great case for using one's own pluripotent cells. But no one seems to care...