Pharyngula

This Newsweek article on the latest innovation in stem cell research is infuriating. The author, Michael Gerson, is a Republican hack with no competence in biology, which seems to qualify him to be a serious judge of science to this administration.

The issue of stem cells was the first test of the infant Bush administration, pitting the promise of medical discovery against the protection of developing life and prompting the president’s first speech to the nation. His solution–funding research on existing stem-cell lines, but not the destruction of embryos to create new ones–was seen as a smart political compromise. In fact, the president was drawing a bright ethical line. He argued that no human life should be risked or destroyed for the medical benefit of another. This was an intentional rejection of the chilly creed of utilitarianism–the greatest good for the greatest number–because the greatest number would gain the unrestricted right to extend their lives by ending or exploiting the lives of the weak.

Seen as a smart political compromise…by who? Everyone I know saw it as a sham, a transparent attempt to put in place an effective ban on the research while keeping a few excuses handy to block criticism. The rest of the paragraph is built entirely on a false assumption, that what Bush was doing was defending “human life” (it’s a tiny collection of cells, the humanity of which wasn’t even accepted by religious tradition) and phrasing blastulae as “lives of the weak” is putting a ridiculous spin on it.

The author could have rewritten this to support a Bush ban on blood transfusions. “He’s making a smart political compromise by allowing the blood banks to use their existing stocks. He was highly ethical in ending the chilly utilitarian practice of sacrificing millions of lymphocytes—living, active human lymphocytes—for the gain of relatively strong accident victims and hemophiliacs.”

The new technique is to take an early embryo and just extract one or a few cells from it, leaving most of the cells intact and in place. This has been done in many cases to get a sample to analyze for genetic diseases; the few cells removed are destroyed, but the embryo as a whole can survive, be implanted, and brought to term with no detectable deficiencies. This is being viewed as an ethical way to harvest stem cells with no loss of “human life.”

It’s a way to get stem cells, sure. But it’s also a hopeless kludge, one that doesn’t seem to me to have much hope of actually being useful. Here are a few objections.

  • Would you do it? Say you’ve gone to a fertility clinic for in vitro fertilization, and the doctor says that they’d like to extract a few cells from the zygote and put them in a research bank. IVF is an expensive and iffy procedure as it is, and they’re going to implant four or five eggs in you because they know several are likely to fail, and this is an extra invasive manipulation that’s going to make them a little more likely to fail.

    I’m confident that damn few hopeful parents-to-be are going to let you experiment on the embryos that are going to be implanted, unless absolutely necessary (for diagnosis of genetic disease, for instance) or unless there is some obvious overt gain (one unfortunate example would be those parents who would let it be done to find out if the embryo is a boy or girl).

  • You might say that, well, you wouldn’t let ’em tinker with the ones they were going to implant, but they often harvest an excess number. You’d be willing to let them extract a few cells from the ones you weren’t going to use. But again, this begs the question. I, for instance, would let all the unused embryos go off to the lab for experimentation without this silly circumlocution of plucking out just a few cells, but if you’ve got that sentimental idea that these are little ‘snowflakes,’ potential human lives, would you still allow them to compromise their viability with an embryo biopsy? Be honest, now.

  • This doesn’t resolve the issue of what to do with all those excess embryos sitting frozen in liquid nitrogen. Are we seriously proposing to pull them out of the dewars, thaw them, suck out a few cells, and pop them back into the freezer for indefinite storage? Why?

  • Even this “compromise” is still illegal. Scientists are prohibited from any work on human embryos that puts the little blobs at risk.

  • Just as a little fantasy, I don’t think the proponents of this compromise quite realize what new ethical dilemmas they are opening up, and expect to see the door slammed shut once some of the possibilities sink in. One thing to think about: if you pull a few totipotent cells out of one embryo, a few more out of another and another, one thing you can do is reconstitute a chimeric new individual out of the bits and pieces—a kind of Frankenembryo. This isn’t at all far-fetched: tetraparental mice have been made, and tetragametic humans spontaneously occur.

    Here’s a scenario to freak out the religious right: it should be technically possible right now for a lesbian couple to have a child together that has both of their genetics. Both go in for IVF with donor sperm, two embryos are fused, and the chimera implanted for normal development. It’s illegal and medically unethical right now because it hasn’t been tested, but there’s no reason it wouldn’t work.

I further detest Michael Gerson’s conclusion.

Two conclusions: First, the president’s policy has been useful, giving scientists the time and incentive to pursue a number of alternatives to the wholesale destruction of embryos. Second, all this research and debate concerning a small clump of cells is an encouraging sign that American conscience remains on duty. They reveal an intuition, even among people who consider themselves pro-choice, that this clump is different from a hangnail or a tumor. It is genetically distinct, biologically alive and undeniably human. And when this life ends, like a snowflake in a warm hand, we know that something irreplaceable has been lost.

One: No, it hasn’t been useful. It’s simply been a barrier to research. Scientists would have pursuing the alternatives, such as this biopsy technique and AS cells, without the crippling of a good line of research.

Two: I find it very discouraging that American ignorance and superstition is still so endemic that they can think a clump of cells is human, and that putatively serious spokespeople for our government can still advance this hysterical, emotional tripe. I refuse to be equated with a dumb, undifferentiated mass, and what I find chilling is a government that can make that equivalence in the name of being pro-life.

Comments

  1. #1 Stuart Coleman
    August 29, 2006

    What’s really discouraging is how little science matters to such a large portion of Americans.

  2. #2 JackGoff
    August 29, 2006

    And when this life ends

    Hey, when do we start the reality series The Embryo Life? I’m sure it’s be highly engaging to see frozen embryo highjinx and the wacky, zany antics of a few immobile collections of cells.

  3. #3 Steve_C
    August 29, 2006

    Can’t wait until Ian gets here. Then we can be bored to tears about the human life that’s being spared by Bush. Uhg.

  4. #4 Molly, NYC
    August 29, 2006

    Stuart Coleman–I don’t care that so many people aren’t into science. Much of it is hard-to-follow (and all of the policy-related stuff is). Not your cup o’ tea? S’okay.

    Here’s what I care about: That they don’t make the distinction between people for whom science is their cup o’ tea, their life’s work and the way they pay the rent; and the guys whose last brush with it was a slept-through “science-for-poets” class just before they dropped out of college.

    I don’t want policy made by people who get their science news from Rush Limbaugh.

  5. #5 Molly, NYC
    August 29, 2006

    PS. Actually, they do make a distinction between scientists and ignorant faux-bubbas. But for an awful lot of them, the decision isn’t about science; it’s between common sense and sticking it to those eggheaded liberals. Guess which one wins?

  6. #6 ck
    August 29, 2006

    And when this life ends, like a snowflake in a warm hand, we know that something irreplaceable has been lost.

    That metaphor–though I know it is meant to conjure up the Snowflake kids–works against him. Who tries to salvage snowflakes? Sure, they’re irreplaceable, but no one is going to argue that they’re an ice sculpture or a mountain that should be preserved. (And on second thought, you can grab another one pretty quickly by sticking out your hand again–so why are they irreplaceable?)

  7. #7 tacitus
    August 29, 2006

    Equating blastocysts with blood cells or skin cells is non-starter when it comes to arguing with pro-lifers. It’s really only useful as a size and complexity comparison since the “potency” difference regarding human life is easy to comprehend.

    Much better to start chipping away at the limitations of the “pro-life” doctrine. “You should not take a life to save a life.” Really? What about IVF? Some anti-abortion activists support IVF treatments (it’s politically hard to be against it) yet many times more embryos die through that procedure than survive to term.

    Even those heroic “snowflake baby” parents are cold-hearted killers. How many are lost for every one they “save”? Why couldn’t they wait a few more years for the IVF techniques to be less wasteful of embryos? Selfish bastards.

    And how many “pro-lifers” shed a tear or even spared a second thought for all those kids, pregnant mothers and unborn children who have died by the bullet or the bomb since we invaded Iraq? What? Ah, yes, but of course. We’re doing it to “save lives” down the road. So what happened to not taking lives to save others? Hmm. Seems like we do it all the time.

    None of this will likely change any minds right away, but it might get them thinking a little.

  8. #8 Keanus
    August 29, 2006

    I marvel at the inconsistency. Bush and the religious right support IVF, which alwaysinvolves “killing” the zygotes that fail to implant. But if one embryologist so much as touches a single zygote destined to be discarded, a “snowflake,” and extract a viable stem cell line, it’s first degree murder. Would that these nuts had as much concern for living, breathing, poverty-sticken humanity, or even the victims of Katrina! It’s a wonder they’re not lobbying for a law to declare sex with contraception murder.

  9. #9 poke
    August 29, 2006

    It’s a wonder they’re not lobbying for a law to declare sex with contraception murder.

    They have to get abstinence-based sex ed in place first. Be patient.

  10. #10 Bob O'H
    August 29, 2006

    He argued that no human life should be risked or destroyed for the medical benefit of another.

    Bugger. There go Phase I clinical trials. Although that will reduce the cost of medical aid.

    Bob

  11. #11 James Allen
    August 29, 2006

    And how many “pro-lifers” shed a tear or even spared a second thought for all those kids, pregnant mothers and unborn children who have died by the bullet or the bomb since we invaded Iraq? What? Ah, yes, but of course. We’re doing it to “save lives” down the road. So what happened to not taking lives to save others? Hmm. Seems like we do it all the time.

    Yup. Whenever someone tries to convince me that stem cell research is murder, I ask them what they would do if they were in a burning building with a child and a freezer full of hundreds of embryos and they could only save the child or the freezer. So far no one has ever chosen to save the freezer.

  12. #12 Kristine
    August 29, 2006

    It is infuriating. The Bush Administration wonks are just going to spin more and more idealistic “scenarios” for stem cell extraction that, even if the methods were to work, will probably never be attempted, because they’re unreasonably difficult, and if something were to go horribly wrong… (Yeah, are we then going to pop the little people-pops back into the freezer? Good one, PZ!)

    “Meeting halfway”–the good old American “Earth’s a little bit round and a little bit flat,” teach both “sides” balderdash. In between science and stupidity? Great idea, just great.

    What good is half a stem cell? Oh.

  13. #13 paperwight
    August 29, 2006

    I’m not going to bother to read the Gerson piece, but for a little more context, Gerson was the primary speechwriter behind most of GWB’s first and second campaigns and all of his first term. The main (and profoundly important) contribution that Gerson made was larding Bush’s speeches with dogwhistle references to whip the fundie base into a nice froth.

    So, Gerson is a very talented and very smart man, who chose to use that talent to further divide the country and promote a theocratic ideology. Everything Gerson writes should be seen in the light of how he’s trying to pitch the Republican party to the fundamentalist base — that’s all he does.

  14. #14 T_U_T
    August 29, 2006

    It is genetically distinct, biologically alive and undeniably human.

    I simply fail to understand …What the heck is so undeniably human in a clump of undifferentiated cells going to end up in a waste bin anyway ?

  15. #15 Rienk
    August 29, 2006

    Funny how these “pro-lifers” want to store every single embryo created indefinately. Maybe we should make a huge liquid nitrogen freezer for the millions and millions of blastulae, right on the lawn of the White House.

    Actually, it’s not funny… it’s sad and scary. What’s even more scary is that the pro-life right to live ends at birth and starts anew when you are naturally ready to die.

  16. #16 bernarda
    August 29, 2006

    I have read different articles about professional athletes in various countries including the U.S. that are collecting and saving stem-cells from their about to be children because they have been led to believe that they might be useful in the future for treating muscle, ligament, and tendon injuries.

    Apparently a rather remote hope.

    There are companies that offer this service.

  17. #17 RSS
    August 29, 2006

    What I don’t understand is the rabid support from the religious right for the sanctity of a tiny bundle of cells as “human life”, yet they maintain that evolution is false. Compare blastocysts from separate species, and in most cases you’d need to run DNA analysis to tell them apart. So, it’s fine to support the stance that blastocyst = human, but not that humans and chimpanzees share a common ancestor. Now, what about that whole virgin birth thingee?

    I think my irony meter broke again…

  18. #18 William
    August 29, 2006

    Two: I find it very discouraging that American ignorance and superstition is still so endemic that they can think a clump of cells is human, and that putatively serious spokespeople for our government can still advance this hysterical, emotional tripe. I refuse to be equated with a dumb, undifferentiated mass, and what I find chilling is a government that can make that equivalence in the name of being pro-life.

    But, PZ… you were a dumb, undifferentiated mass of cells at one point.

    I am a pro-life, pro-science atheist. I detest many of my fellow travelers on this issue. (Yes, thank you, I am self-conscious enough to have spent time considering the question ‘shouldn’t that be a bad sign?’. I came to my conclusions independently.) Many of you deride this position as a product of the Religious Right, and certainly superstition (or the political veneer of superstition) seems to be the real motive behind our government’s actions in this matter.

    Consider instead a hypothetical scenario in which stem cell research is ardently desired — because scientific and medical research is important, it saves lives — as is an insistence on ethical behavior toward all people, with as broad a definition of “people” as can reasonably be made. I was an embryo once. I am glad I did not die in that stage of my development. I elect to act ethically toward them, and think that there exists a societal responsibility in this regard.

    Now, what does it mean to act ethically toward someone? Generally, the most fundamental is to refrain from positively undertaking actions to harm them. Actions that involve a risk of harm are far more acceptable, when the benefit is great (scientific research), and the risk as mitigated as reasonably possible. Creating embryos with a risk of loss in order to reproduce is acceptable; doesn’t creating embryos for the purpose of destruction seem less morally sound to you? Along the same lines, I was thrilled to hear of this method of producing stem cell lines from blastomeres.

    Also ethically allowed, to address many of the scenarios described in posts above, is the withdrawal of support; generally, Western morality by by means obliges us to contribute materially to the care of others without benefit to ourselves. We do tend to do so, both because charity is personally pleasing and on a societal level because taking care of certain populations improves society generally, but this is considered a positively virtuous act rather than a moral requirement. Thus, we have no particular requirement to adopt snowflake babies, or keep useless embryos in cold storage; we have a right to withdraw support, and to grasp whatever benefit we can in the process. Blood cells? As soon as I stop watering them, they’re dead. (And lesbians reproducing? Be my guest. When you’re not going at this issue from a religious point of view silly considerations like that don’t matter.)

    Look, a lot of people hate it when this comparison is made, but we institutionally used to think that non-white races weren’t quite “human”, and could serve our purposes. The advancement of civilization has generally followed the scientific and philosophical broadening of our understanding of what it means to be human: we are human, foreigners are human, people that don’t look like us are human, humanity shares biology and physics with the rest of the natural world, humanity is the product of a long process of evolution that currently provides us with a particular set of genetic traits… and at every stage we extend and deepen our definition of humanity, and consider more civilized those nations that extend the values of humanity and human rights to as broad a population as possible.

    In summary, nothing about religion or ensoulment is required here. I might be wrong about calling an embryo human (although, I turn back the question upon you, wrong by what measure?). I’d rather err on the side of not killing someone, because killing a person is really really bad, the worst thing you can do. (No afterlife, remember.) Putting them to some necessary risk, especially one which appears rather low, in order to gain broad benefits to people’s lives is far more acceptable and in line with Western legal traditions of ethics and human rights.

  19. #19 Steve_C
    August 29, 2006

    So are you for or against IVF?

  20. #20 Jason
    August 29, 2006

    This issue shows exactly how far into the corner religion has been pushed in this country. There are two possibilities – those who push these issues either think that the fate of zygotes and frozen embryos are the most important issues of today (over, say, spreading a peaceful, kind moral philosophy, fighting poverty, hunger, war, or even good old-fashioned prostelitizing), or these issues are simply pressure points used to fight the modern, progressive, liberal, technological society that is constantly advancing.

  21. #21 Julie Stahlhut
    August 29, 2006

    He argued that no human life should be risked or destroyed for the medical benefit of another.

    By this logic, it wouldn’t be ethical to allow an adult to donate a kidney to a relative, since this requires a major surgical procedure with attendant risks.

  22. #22 Millimeter Wave
    August 29, 2006

    But, PZ… you were a dumb, undifferentiated mass of cells at one point.

    We were also zygotes at one point. Where is the important distinction? Each requires a large number of things to occur subsequently in order to create anything recognizable as a distinct human. Why is only one of those things important?

    Many of you deride this position as a product of the Religious Right, and certainly superstition

    Actually, I think most of us deride it as the product of emotion rather than superstition.

  23. #23 Jason
    August 29, 2006

    William argues that IVF is valid because “creating embryos with a risk of loss in order to reproduce is acceptable,” while creating them for research is only for “destruction.” Haven’t you ignored one of your central conceits, that medical research is a good for mankind? Why is the creation of a child with IVF (which can be avoided by adoption or, say, use of a surrogate mother/father of some kind) valid while the potential for medical advances of which we can only guess is not? It seems to me that, if we’re using a scale that measures “usefullness” when considering whether an embryo can be sacrificed, I’d rather have cures for Parkinsons and custom-grown organ replacements than the ability for infertile couples to reproduce.

  24. #24 PZ Myers
    August 29, 2006

    But, PZ… you were a dumb, undifferentiated mass of cells at one point.

    Actually, I—this sentient, animated creature with a functioning (mostly) brain — was not. I can trace some particle of my material framework back to a ball of cells, but I can also trace that physical “me” back to free carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and even further, fusing atoms in an exploding star.

    I think I have a less indiscriminate and more meaningful understanding of what constitutes a human being than you do.

  25. #25 Kristine
    August 29, 2006

    What the heck is so undeniably human in a clump of undifferentiated cells going to end up in a waste bin anyway ?

    Pro-lifers have not accepted that we are human by degrees, depending on which part of our genome you look at. I love this explanation by Dawkins.

    But it is we that choose to divide animals up into discontinuous species…This lawyer [A creationist who asked a question from the audience], with his trained discontinuous mind, insists on placing individuals firmly in this species or that. He does not allow for the possibility that an individual might lie half-way between two species, or a tenth of the way from species A to species B. Self-styled ‘pro-lifers’, and others that indulge in footling debates about exactly when in its development a foetus ‘becomes human’, exhibit the same discontinuous mentality. It is no use telling these people that, depending upon the human characteristics that interest you, a foetus can be ‘half human’ or ‘a hundredth human’. ‘Human’, to the discontinuous mind, is an absolute concept. There can be no half measures. And from this flows much evil.

    In a nutshell.

  26. #26 George
    August 29, 2006

    Since Republicans are all about the most good for the fewest people, it makes sense that they are upset with utilitarian arguments about doing more good for more people.

    We obviously need a Yucca Mountain type facility for all those frozen embryos they want to preserve forever. I propose the Bush Compound in Crawford, Texas.

    Send ’em all there.

  27. #27 tacitus
    August 29, 2006

    William, I have more respect for atheists who are against abortion than religious type since they are more likely, at least, to have thought through the issues instead of just relying on some half-assed religious mumbo-jumbo. (I always thought that fundamentalists should welcome abortion since it’s basically a fast-path to Heaven).

    While I’m not prepared to accept that a week-old embryo should have the same right-to-life as an unborn baby in the third trimester, I also do not think we should treat it as just another piece of cellular matter to be used in any way possible, hence my dislike for blood/skin cell comparison. Issues surrounding the beginnings of life, such as IVF, specifying the sex of a baby, and reproductive cloning, all have ethical issues that need to be considered carefully so that the risks of abuse are kept to a minimum.

    I don’t mind healthy, reasoned debate about these issues. Society is going to have to determine how far they will let scientists and doctors go down this road, and it will always be too far for some, and not nearly far enough for others. But I do get frustrated when the authorities are held hostage to a vocal minority for fear of offending their political base.

    For me, the “we were all once a clump of cells” argument doesn’t hold water. While true, it’s simply not useful. If that clump of cells that was you ended up failing to implant, miscarried, or was aborted, you would never have been aware of what you missed. Essentially you would never have existed in the first place. Furthermore, given the “butterfly effect” of any birth, your mere existence has almost certainly prevented the lives of at least a few other human beings who could have been born if you were not alive today–starting with another child your parents may have decided to have if you were not brought to term.

  28. #28 bob koepp
    August 29, 2006

    still talking about “bans” and “prohibitions” in a misleading way — even proper qualifiers would help

  29. #29 Pierce R. Butler
    August 29, 2006

    William: Look, a lot of people hate it when this comparison is made, but we institutionally used to think that non-white races weren’t quite “human”, and could serve our purposes.

    Funny how people tend to resent emotional hot-button analogies with no relevance whatsoever to the issue under discussion, particularly as the capstone to a string of non-sequiturs, distortions, and logical fallacies indicating the speaker is either a dishonest fanatic or a fool under the mental control of such fanatics.

    Have you ever asked yourself why people react that way?

  30. #30 PZ Myers
    August 29, 2006

    No, it is an effective ban. The demand for “qualifiers” is begging for exactly the kind of sop the Bush administration wants. It’s exactly why they left in the allowance to use X number of existing lines — not because they want to support the research, but because they want to give pettifogging whiners opportunities to deny what they’ve done.

  31. #31 T_U_T
    August 29, 2006

    . It is no use telling these people that, depending upon the human characteristics that interest you, a foetus can be ‘half human’ or ‘a hundredth human’.

    I don’t think this is the real problem, because we simply have to narrow the complex course of development down to a binary decision protect/non’t protect.
    No matter whether we set the threshold to ovulation, conception, birth, or graduation. And development is not a smooth overblend from 0% human zygote to 100% human newborn. There are plenty of well defined separated stages it goes through, so making justified distinctions should be quite easy. But the problem with them is, that they have picked an utterly absurdly wrong one.

  32. #32 bob koepp
    August 29, 2006

    PZ –
    I agree that the “Bush plan” sucks as a compromise, but you describe it as “an effective ban on the research” when the research _can_ be pursued, albeit without federal support. Similar qualifications apply to your statement that “Scientists are prohibited from any work on human embryos that puts the little blobs at risk.” If reportorial accuracy gets in the way of political advocacy I would hope that people who call themselves scientists and friends of science plump for accuracy, even if that means they need to work a bit harder in pursuit of their political objectives.

  33. #33 TritoneSubstitution
    August 29, 2006

    I would just like to point out to William that he said that IVF risks loss of life for a good. IVF does not risk loss of life. If you believe that an embryo is human life then you must also accept that IVF ENSURES loss of human life. Regardless of your “feelings” on the matter, it would be nice if you would be consistent. I understand it when people feel as you do, but you need to follow your convictions to their conclusions.

  34. #34 Samnell
    August 29, 2006

    “While I’m not prepared to accept that a week-old embryo should have the same right-to-life as an unborn baby in the third trimester, I also do not think we should treat it as just another piece of cellular matter to be used in any way possible, hence my dislike for blood/skin cell comparison.”

    I do. Honestly, I’m unable to get the fervor over this. I think it originates in some emotional fondness for children being overextended past the bounds of any reason. Embryos, gametes, toenail clippings, these are all of the same moral status to me and what one does with them is really trivial. It’s on the same level as growing one’s hair long or keeping it short to me.

    People tell me I’m singularly lacking in empathy here. I don’t see where empathy enters into the picture.

  35. #35 Bruce
    August 29, 2006

    Creating embryos with a risk of loss in order to reproduce is acceptable; doesn’t creating embryos for the purpose of destruction seem less morally sound to you?

    William, the human race has had no problem reproducing over the years (just in case you haven’t noticed). Thus, accepting your belief that embryos are human, sacrificing many embryos for the sake of possibly one pregnancy is not morally justified because there is no reason to make the sacrifice in the first place.

    In summary, nothing about religion or ensoulment is required here. I might be wrong about calling an embryo human (although, I turn back the question upon you, wrong by what measure?). I’d rather err on the side of not killing someone, because killing a person is really really bad, the worst thing you can do.

    Have you ever heard the term “brain dead” or “vegetative state”? Technically, these people are living but we don’t really consider them to be “living”. I’m sure you remember a recent example down in Florida, don’t you? Well, not only do these embryos you care so much about not have any brain activity, they don’t even have brains! I think it is safe to say that scientifically we can determine that these embryos are not “human” any more then any person in a persistent vegetative state. So unless you have some other measurement (other than brain wave activity) that you would like to use, then you should probably accept the fact that embryos are not human beings.

  36. #36 Jud
    August 29, 2006

    Bruce:

    The “vegetative state” thing isn’t strictly analogous. Folks in that state are considered clinically dead precisely because there’s no chance that they’ll be aware human beings (again) in the future. The situation’s different for embryos.

    I’m not trying to argue against stem cell research, just pointing out that no brain function at the end of life and no brain function at its beginning aren’t quite fully equivalent.

  37. #37 A
    August 29, 2006

    Killing someone is the worst thing you can do?

    What about killing lots of people?

    What about torturing someone to the point that they kill themselves because death is preferable to what you’ve done to them?

  38. #38 Ritchie Annand
    August 29, 2006

    I agree that the “Bush plan” sucks as a compromise, but you describe it as “an effective ban on the research” when the research _can_ be pursued, albeit without federal support.

    The issue of federal support is a big one. Private companies end up having to create a huge amount of infrastructure on their own instead of co-opting or renting space, equipment or even expertise because of the legal implications, and to boot, private companies need to see profit from whatever it is they’re doing, something that embryonic stem cell research isn’t likely to see anytime soon.

    The stem cell lines available are accumulating mutations, and have been grown on mouse fibroblasts, making contamination an issue.

    It’s especially sad, too, in a way, since with embryonic stem cell research, we could learn a lot more about how they operate and why they’re totipotent, and the embyonic research stage wouldn’t likely last all that long – most biological applications we’re looking for work best with a DNA match with a decidedly non-embryonic patient.

    I suppose we could cross our fingers and hope that we could skip that step with research on the Nanog gene, but there’s no guarantee on that line of inquiry.

  39. #39 Ginger Yellow
    August 30, 2006

    So, according to Gerson, taking a clump of cells and ensuring they don’t become a human is bad, but taking one clump of cells from another clump of cells and ensuring that they don’t become human is OK, as long as the other clump of cells do become a human. How utterly logical.

  40. #40 Brian Spence
    August 30, 2006

    Your comments would do better being sent to Newsweek. I’d love to see your rebuttal published.

  41. #41 Dunc
    August 30, 2006

    He argued that no human life should be risked or destroyed for the medical benefit of another.

    It’s an interesting argument, and one I’m not entirely unsympathetic to. And it has the wonderful side benefit of protecting abortion rights – after all, pregnancy is risky, and we can’t be risking lives for the medical benefits of others, such as the unborn.

    The fact that this is the exact opposite of the arguments we actually see from the pro-forced-pregnancy brigade simply serves to emphasise what they really think about the relative humanity of (a) women, and (b) the unborn.

  42. #42 Steve_C
    August 30, 2006

    Apparently none of the embryos survived the cell extractions.
    Kinda puts a hole in that theory. A whole lot of hype.

    http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn9873-hype-accusation-blights-stem-cell-breakthrough-.html

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