Thursday, May 26, 2005

Embryonic stem cell research

Comment by Jay Cuasay

I think it would be helpful if both sides of the debate agreed on some common language so that we do not simply talk past each other to reiterate our own steadfast positions. We would all be on the same page if we viewed the fertilized egg outside of the womb as potential human life (if implanted) and something certain to die/disintegrate (outside of the womb).

I would find the opposition more convincing if it did not try to associate stem cell research with the issue of abortion, where it views abortion as the taking of innocent, human, life. It should argue instead that it is opposed to the active intervention such research causes (outside of the womb), which advantageous though it may be, is inappropriate at such a time. Their slogan and sentiment seems to be: “Let them die in peace (outside the womb).”

Supporters might note that we would take a dying person's cellular materials for beneficial use if it was under the right conditions and not if it denied proper "human" dignity to the event. A similar ethical protocol could be enacted. A similar one is already in place to handle the discarding of such materials. And it should be noted that where science may appear too clinical to completely handle the enormity of this event, we have other psychological, theological, and spiritual means for understanding and processing these events, as well. Why not develop a way that gives a larger “humanity” and dignity to such an event? Their slogan could be: “Don’t just let us die, help us help someone else.”

Personally, the opposition to stem cell research in its heart may come from a right place morally. But it poorly stretches the skin of simplistic rhetoric to inadequately cover a vast body of issues. We need to be more complex and serious about the totality of this life and death event rather than playing chicken with it.

President Bush's initial decision to allow for stem cell research on existing stem cell lines was great politicking, but it makes no sense. It works in the sense that it is in effect, but it also lets the genie out. Other countries not bound by such self-contradictory laws will move forward and produce their own findings. We will still need to reconcile such activities and findings with our own clinical and moral inactivity. To handle this with our full human capacities, we ought to let theologians, scientists, et. al. have their say. And they should use the BIGGER words they have because the politician's vocabulary and thinking on this isn't effective and it isn't an answer.


leenie in va said...

A few, possibly incoherent, thoughts:

The pivotal point in this whole debate seems to be (yet again) a fundamental disagreement regarding when life begins. Maybe it shouldn't be, but it is.

If you say that life begins at conception, and for the moment we take that to be true, then all your arguments make sense. The embryo then, is a living being and therefore, the protocol regarding the use of this being's cells should be given the same work-over by theologians, ethicists and scientists as would the decision to use cells from a dying person for whatever purposes.

But if this embryo is not YET a living being until it is implanted, then you're talikng about cells, and if this is the case, of what "dignity" are these cells desrving? It seems that as soon as you make the argument for "death with dignity" of these embryos, you are conceding that these are real living beings.

Perhaps that's what you mean to do? Perhaps you are syaing, "Fine, let's assume you're right, so how could we still allow this research to happen in a way that benefits all and desecrates none?" That's valid and admirable.

The fear that opponents of stem cell research have is twofold: 1) These embryos will be destroyed rather than implanted--which already happens with no audible hue and cry from the religious right and concedes that they must be IMPLANTED for them to become anything more than what they already are, and 2) That embryos will be grown for the sole purpose of harvesting the stem cells.

It seems we could, as you, suggest, find a way to harmlessly harvest the cells from thse embryos--whether they're human beings or not, use them to help people who we can all agree ARE human beings, and enact strict guidlines that ensure that we aren't mass producing embryos for "parts." We could, that is, if the old abortion-related entrenchments didn't interfere.

In today's political climate, and in a world where so many are unwilling or incapable of thinking outsisde the box, as you have, I wouldn't hold my breath.

Rebecca said...

The problem with the whole "these embryos are going to destroyed anyway so lets use their parts to save lives" argument is that there is a very limited supply of such embryos available for research. Certainly, not enough to build a library for tissue-matching. The above argument is a red-herring. Once we get comfortable destroying existing human life for research purposes, we can then start creating life for the same purpose, whether through traditional IVF or through cloning. Beware. Embryo and fetal "farming" is on the horizon.

Also, embryology clearly states that human life begins at conception whether or not it happens inside the womb.