Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Stem Cell Research in the News Again

From yesterday's Wall Street Journal:

In a landmark ruling, D.C. federal judge Royce Lamberth yesterday blocked the federal government from funding research involving human embryonic stem cells.

A Reagan appointee, Lamberth invoked a 1996 law that prohibits federal money for research in which an embryo is destroyed. (Here’s the 15-page ruling, which granted a preliminary injunction against federal funding.)

Scientists called the ruling, which could affect hundreds of millions of dollars in funding, a major setback for medical research. But some Christian groups hailed the result.

(Click here for the WSJ story, here for the Washington Post and here for NYT).

The government, WSJ reports, had attempted to distinguish between the destruction of embryos—for which funding remains barred—and research using already destroyed embryos. But the judge said embryonic stem-cell research “necessarily depends on the destruction of a human embryo.”

“Federal money should not be used for destroying human embryos for the purpose of research,” Ron Stoddart, executive director of Nightlight Christian Adoptions, told WSJ.

Angie here again. As I wrote in an earlier blog post:

While scientific debate swirls around us, certain facts are indisputable: first, those who debate when life begins are arguing the wrong question, for life does not “begin” even at conception. An egg and sperm are alive before they meet. Rather than “beginning,” life is passed from one living human to another. The thread of life winds back through generations and originates at the point where the Creator breathed into the first human.

A fertilized human egg will not grow to be a fish, a bird, or a monkey. It will become every bit as human as the mother and father who hold their baby in their arms. The difference is not in the quality of personhood, but size. Given time and opportunity, the embryo will grow.

Stem cell research has been in the news of late, as it should be. But let’s be clear about the exact nature of the research involved. Those who argue for stem cell research are usually talking about fetal cells when adult stem cells are far more useful for treating disease. Proponents of fetal stem cell research, which typically uses so many cells from frozen embryos that it destroys those lives-in-waiting, cite Ronald Reagan and Michael J. Fox as reasons why we should experiment on living human beings. Yes, we should feel concern for those who suffer from diseases, but should we not feel the same concern for those who are held in a state of cryogenic suspension?

Stem cells, which are valued because they are “plastic,” or able to transform into multiple cell types (blood cells, kidney cells, etc.), are not found only in preborn humans. They are also available in umbilical cord blood, children’s baby teeth, hair follicles, placentas, and even liposuctioned fat.

The Scripps Research Institute has recently reported that a small molecule called reversine allows mature cells to become “plastic” again. Researcher Dr Sheng Ding said: "This [approach] . . . will allow you to derive stem-like cells from your own mature cells, avoiding the technical and ethical issues associated with embryonic stem cells."

Scientists have now proposed taking only one cell from embryos to preserve those lives, but those who lobby for the removal of restrictions on stem cell research are actually pushing for the right to use unborn humans for experimentation—a bizarre situation, considering that our government protects the rights of eagles and manatees to live free from human harassment. Should we do less for babies who have not yet reached a healthy birth weight?

The conflict at the heart of the debate involves the rights of already-born humans versus the rights of preborn humans. Yet researchers currently have access to adult stem cells, which have been successfully used to treat spinal cord injuries, regenerate heart tissue, and reconstruct corneas. Adult stem cell therapy has shown significant results in the treatment of diabetes, lupus, multiple sclerosis, anemias, leukemias, Parkinson’s, and Crohn’s disease. No embryonic stem cell treatment to date has come close to the success rate of adult cell therapies.

Out of mercy and compassion, we ought to try to discover cures for disease. Scientists and medical researchers have a moral responsibility to do what they can to improve the quality of human life. Out of the same mercy and compassion, however, we ought to forbid all uses of embryonic humans for spare parts. If the restrictions on embryonic research are lifted, the temptation to create human embryos for the purpose of experimentation may prove impossible to resist.

You can read the latest WSJ article (and comments!) here.



Kathy Cassel said...

Good thoughts, Angie. Right on target.

Mocha with Linda said...

Ditto what Kathy C said. And I agree with the WSJ commenter who stated you were eloquent in your debate.

Doni Brinkman said...

This discussion is all the more frustrating in light of the medical communities acknowledgement of the advances in adult stem cell research. There is NO reason to use embryonic cells in the first place. In another 10 years or so the snowflake kiddos will be old enough to speak up on their own behalf. That will be an interesting discussion won't it? :) (Though I must admit, I don't predict my shy boy will be a lobbyist. :)

Angela said...

You are so right, Doni--and I think we all know what the REAL issue is here. If the other side concedes that they really don't need embryonic cells, if they abandon the fight to use those cells, then they are tacitly admitting that an embryo is a person--and that would conflict with a woman's right to an abortion. That is the real issue here, and those who champion abortion rights cannot afford to withdraw from the battle being waged over a preborn baby's right to live safe and unmolested until birth.