Another View

Hi! My name is Margaret and I’m John’s significantly younger sister. He invited me to join the discussion so I’ll give it a try. Please be kind to me as I’m not of the same political persuasion as my dear brother and probably most of his faithful readers. Here goes:

John, first let me start with what we agree on. 1) We share an aversion to abortion and eugenic tampering, and 2) we agree that President Bush should wield his veto pen on any compassionately pork-laden, grossly earmarked bills that come his way.

Okay, now we split company. You’ve already stated that you will never understand anyone’s opposition to something so inherently reasonable as embryonic stem cell research, so I’m not sure it’s worth bothering to state a few objections, but you invited me here and what else are sisters for, anyway?

There is a vast difference between the discovery of how its genes are made (Watson and Crick) and the destruction of a human being (potential, at least) for the cause of medical research. Just because attacks against Watson and Crick’s work were undeserved, does not have anything to do with the ethical validity of embryonic stem cell research. Such experimentation should be judged on its own merits, not lumped in with other good stuff shot down by “the church and religious conservatives.”

And while it may be true that we’re on the brink of amazing breakthroughs, what I’ve read indicates that the most successful and exciting of those results are coming from research with adult stem cells, the use of which raises no moral or ethical concerns.

Many adult stem cells have the potential to transform themselves into practically all other cell types, or revert to being stem cells with greater reproductive capacity. According to one article I read, “Embryonic stem cells have not yet been used for even one therapy, while adult stem cells have already been successfully used in numerous patients, including for cardiac infarction (death of some of the heart tissue).”

The fact that the embryos in question are “donated by individuals with their written informed consent and without any financial or other inducements” gives me no comfort since the only individual whose (potential) life is being snuffed out has no way of registering his or her objection to the process. And I’m not sure we want to open the door to parents deciding which of their children’s lives they’re willing to sacrifice for the greater good of medical research. (I’ve got an 18-year old I could be induced to volunteer!)

The fact is, anyone who wants to can use his or her own money to fund research on any available embryos in the world. The question is: why should my taxes go to pay for something which I (and many others) find morally and ethically repugnant?

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6 responses to “Another View

  1. Two key points:
    1) DISCARDED and going to be thrown away – we are going to gain something positive from something that is going to be discared – like or not like the destruction of these embryos, they are going to be tossed. Why not make something positive out of this?
    2) the carnard that adult stem cells are more useful or that embryonic stem cells are not useful is just not true. Research by the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation and by the source I cited in my original post have much claim to the contrary. This is not a zero sum game. Adult stem cells may well by useful. Embryonic stem cells are more malleable.

    I just don’t get the throwing away business…what is repugnant about turning something that was created for a positive purpose but is not going to be used for that purpose?

  2. MCO

    John and Margaret, I would make two points:

    1) The difference between adult and embryonic stem cell research to date is as follows: embryonic stem cells are theoretically useful; adult stem cells are demonstrably so. In spite of all of the attention given to embryonic stem cells, they have not yet proven to be manageable and useful.

    2)John, you are my favorite local left of center blogger and a class act. However, your sister is much smarter than you. You should pay attention.

  3. Whoa! Thank you, mco, for your (overly) kind words. I was just about to respond to John that my statement about the relative benefits of adult vs embryonic stem cells is anything BUT a canard, but you beat me to it. John, an article online called “Current Science of Regenerative Medicine with Stem Cells” is very informative about the uses and limitations of adult cells in all kinds of areas, including diabetes.

    To your other point, I get that you don’t find the practice of embryonic stem cell research repugnant. Can you accept that I do? People who feel as you do are free to get private funding just like Harvard is doing so their research won’t be limited by government restrictions. I may not like or approve of what they’re doing, but at least I don’t have to pay for it!

    So private enterprise could use those embryos for research or people could actually raise them. There are adoption agencies springing up everywhere to deal with these “leftover” embryos.

    Although your argument sounds very pragmatic and reasonable, once you let that smelly camel get its nose in your tent, you’d better watch out. A hundred years from now, who knows what kind of people will be considered discardable?

  4. First of all, research on adult stem cell usage should be encouraged. Too often backers seem to support adult stem cell usage because they are against embryonic stem cell usage. I don’t see this as a ‘zero sum’ game. Both types of stem cells have their applications.

    The National Institute of Health have this to say about the ‘adult’ vs. embryonic stem cell controversy

    “adult stem cells are 1) not totipotent, 2) often present only in minute quantities, 3) perhaps not as capable of multiplying, and 4) more likely to have DNA or other damage. ”

    The NJDF (national juvenile diabetes foundation) firmly states that the adult stem cell has no promise for the cure of diabetes because of its lack of malleability. This foundation has only one thing in mind: cure of juvenile diabetes. They have no ‘dog’ in the fight about which one should be used, other than to find the most effective possibility.

    No, I am not opposed to embryonic stem cell research if there are limitations. Research and work should only be done on those embryonic cells that are GOING TO BE THROWN AWAY and were created for the purpose of fertilization for parents otherwise unable to have children.

    We limit all kinds of things. Allowing 16 years olds to drive does not compel or lead to the slippery slope of 12 year olds driving. The use of narcotic pain killers is more than helpful to those of us who have had operations or were dorky enough to trip over curbs and cream our heads. This doesn’t mean that everyone should or can have access to narcotic pain killers.

    I object strongly to my taxpayer dollars going to what I consider a wasteful ill-advised war in Iraq. I don’t like my tax dolllars going to subsidise a few sugar farmers at the expense of the rest of us who have to buy cost-inflated sugar.

    I work to elect people who are like-minded. Obviously, I lose a lot, but I have to accept the will of the people even though I might find it repugnant. If it is immoral, I have to conscientiously object, but in the case of stem cell research, I find it immoral to waste resources that are going to be discared, rather than exploit them for the potential good of untold millions.

  5. PS. I’m a huge fan of MCO (Music City Oracle). He is a class act albeit a poor judge of Hutchesons..(c;

  6. Okay, I promise that this will be my last comment on stem cell stuff. You say that backers of adult stem cell research seem to back it because they’re against the use of embryos. Well, partially, yeah. I think your point is that it doesn’t have to be either/or and should be both/and. But I’m against the use of embryos (even if they hold tremendous potential) because I’m against the destruction of embryos. I’m for the use of adult stem cells because a) they have already demonstrated tremendous potential and b) their use does no harm to anyone. Remember Hippocrates?

    You’re right that not every slope is slippery but surely you’ll agree that these issues provide plenty of possibilities for abuse and exploitation. What happens if there aren’t enough embryos set for destruction? It doesn’t take an extraordinary imagination to predict that there will be tremendous pressure to expand the supply of cells.

    I agree with those quoted by President Bush who say, “There’s no such thing as excess life, and the fact that a living being is going to die does not justify experimenting on it or exploiting it as a natural resource.”

    I’ll continue to pay my taxes if the bill to fund ES cell research becomes law, but until then I will let my concerns be known and I will strongly encourage President Bush to veto any law that disturbs the balance between (in his own words) “the need to protect life in all its phases with the prospect of saving and improving life in all its stages.”

    Feel free to have the last word, bro. Love you always.

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