Monday, October 17, 2005

More Potential Breakthroughs on Stem Cell Research

Today's New York Times has some hopeful news for those hoping that stem cell research will provide help for those with certain catastrophic conditions and diseases.

Scientists have devised two new techniques to derive embryonic stem cells in mice, one of which avoids the destruction of the embryo, a development that could have the potential to shift the grounds of the longstanding political debate about human stem cell research.

The destruction of embryos is a principal objection of anti-abortion advocates who have strenuously opposed federal financing of the research.

The second new technique manipulates embryos so they are inherently incapable of implanting in the uterus, what some see as a possible ethical advantage in the proposed therapy, which converts a patient's skin cell into embryonic cells and then new tissues to repair the body. Both methods are described in today's online edition of Nature.

The technique for making embryonic stem cells without compromising the embryo has yet to be adapted to people, but the two species are very similar at this level of embryonic development. "I can't think of a reason why the technique would not theoretically work in humans," said Brigid L. M. Hogan, an embryologist at Duke University.


The main objections to stem cell research to date have been ethical ones. Cloning of people and parts of people is one major issue that concerns most serious minded people. The destruction of a human fertilized blastocyte is objectionable to a significant number of anti-abortion people who believe that even at this stage the blastocyte is an embryo and a human life, the destruction of which is murder.

At first glance, these breakthroughs appear to overcome the objections of the second group because the stem cells are derived in such a fashion that the blastocyte is not destroyed. Unfortunately, that is not the case.

If it does work in people, which could take many months to find out, the technique might divide the anti-abortion movement into those who accept or reject in vitro fertilization, because the objection to deriving human embryonic stem cells would come to rest on creating the embryos in the first place, not on their destruction. ...

Only a procedure that generated embryonic stem cells without creating or destroying embryos "would address the Catholic Church's most fundamental moral objection to embryonic stem cell research as now pursued," Mr. Doerflinger [of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops] said in testimony last December to the President's Council on Bioethics.
[Emphasis added]

While these developments are exciting, they still do not pass the test for those who believe that the creation of embryos for anything other than making living, breathing babies is sinful. While the theology is consistent (and not actually a moving of the goal posts), the result is the same. Researchers who might finally be able to find effective ways of fighting diabetes, Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, and spinal cord injuries will continue to be hamstrung, and those afflicted with those conditions will continue to wait.

2 Comments:

Blogger Rudy said...

Stem cells can be a panacea or a pandora's box depending on how well the science is used.

Your legal expertise sheds important light on this. Thanks.

6:41 AM  
Blogger One Salient Oversight said...

There is no doubt that any stem cell research that does not result in the death of an embryo (or a blastocyst) will be supported by a majority of leaders in the anti-abortion movement.

The movement IS split by many who support IVF and many who don't. Those who do support IVF would probably find some of the recent breakthroughs to be acceptable.

But the creation of an embryo that cannot attach itself to the walls of the uterus - many anti-abortionists would still find this unacceptable.

5:19 PM  

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