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30 September 2009

stem cell research - an ethical dispute

This is a guest post, and an unusual one, at that. I'll be right back to the more "normal" topics (there's at least one coming up that will tackle some heavy issues concerning the Church and worship) very soon.

The following is a research paper written by friend and commenter Ted. I read it a couple of weeks ago and was so intrigued that I could have been so woefully off-base on the facts of this issue that even though it's a far cry from typical EGBDF fare, I asked him if I could post it. He readily agreed. I'm a musician, not a scientist, and I'm interested in your thoughts.

Just to annoy you, I removed the footnotes for the sake of formatting. He did provide them and I'll be happy to post them or e-mail them to you if you'd like. Just to annoy Ted, I put some key phrases in bold.


Stem Cell research is a tinderbox waiting for the slightest spark to ignite another ethical divide across America, conservatives versus liberals, Republicans versus Democrats, ‘intelligent design’ versus evolution, and Pro-Life versus Pro-Choice. What is it about Stem Cell research that has everyone up in arms? The ethical dispute concerning stem cell research centers on the definition of life; if we are a product of ‘intelligent design’ then all life is sacred, but if we evolved, should we not use every means available to improve our lives? To understand this ethical dilemma we must define what stems cells are. In an article by stemcellresearchfacts.com entitled “Adult versus Embryonic Stem Cells”, we find this definition:

A stem cell is essentially a “blank” cell, capable of becoming another more differentiated cell type in the body, such as a skin cell, a muscle cell, or a nerve cell. Microscopic in size, stem cells are big news in medical and science circles because they can be used to replace or even heal damaged tissues and cells in the body. They can serve as a built-in repair system for the human body, replenishing other cells as long as a person is still alive.
There are two major classifications of stem cells, embryonic and adult. PhD Kane, a veterinarian, explains, “Adult -- stem cells are obtained from a variety of tissues, including bone marrow, adipose tissue, muscle, cartilage, trabecular bone and tendon”. PhD Kane has used stem cell therapy to treat soft tissue and tendon injuries on horses for several years with encouraging results. What makes this treatment promising is the capacity of stem cells to differentiate into specialized cell types. “Adult stem cell treatments have been successfully used for many years” to treat leukemia and related bone/blood cancers through bone marrow transplants. Additionally, this kind of treatment has about a zero percent chance of rejection because the donor and recipient are one in the same. “Embryonic stem cells are obtained by harvesting living embryos which are generally 5-7 days old. The removal of embryonic stem cells invariably results in the destruction of the embryo”; which is the main cause for the controversy. Steven Ertelt states, “Embryonic stem cell research has never cured or helped any patients to this point. Only the use of adult stem cells and treatments derived from them have cured or reduced the effects of any diseases or conditions afflicting patients”. Another major disadvantage with embryonic stem cells is that have a tendency to cause tumors and have a high rejection rate.

The use of embryonic stem cells results in the destruction of the embryo, a potential human life, which fuels this ethical debate. Additionally, embryonic stem cell research is commonly associated with abortion and many of the issues tied to it. Since the Roe versus Wade case of 1973, there is a great ethical divide across America – Pro Life versus Pro Choice. Creationism and Darwinism are also associated with embryonic stem cell research, because one’s belief in either Intelligent Design or evolution determines his understanding of life. Political ideologies and agendas add more dissention to this debate; topics such as separation of church and state, liberalism versus conservatism, gay rights, and health care are often referred to when stem cell research is mentioned. Time Magazine correspondent Karen Tumulty wrote the following:

The politics of stem-cell research, just like the science of it, is turning out to be far more complicated than either side would like you to think. From the press releases, fund-raising appeals and victory cries that were going up in the hours after President George W. Bush used his veto for the first time, it may have looked as though the Democrats had finally found their golden issue--and a social one at that. "With one stroke of his pen," declared Democratic chairman Howard Dean, "President Bush has once again denied hope to millions of Americans and their families who suffer from diabetes, spinal-cord injuries and Alzheimer's."

In actuality President Bush’s veto only “banned the use of federal funding to support research on embryonic stem cell lines created after August 2001, it is not illegal”. There is no law or regulation against destroying human embryos for research purposes. Anyone using private funds is free to conduct embryonic stem cell research. According to Howard Dean, any attempt to deny funding for embryonic stem cell research is denying hope to millions of Americans. The following statement from the National Review is a perfect example of how political agendas are more important than finding a possible cure:
On Nov. 20, scientists announced that they had discovered a way to create stem cells with the same potential as embryonic stem cells--but instead of destroying embryos, they had done it by "reprogramming" adult cells. Supporters of the embryo-destructive research, especially Democrats, started to carp. The Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank, said that it would take years for scientists to figure out how to keep the new methods from causing tumors. Instead, it took less than two weeks. Eventually, the naysayers are going to have to face the fact that we have had some good news.
The exploitation of women to donate their eggs is big business on many campuses nationwide. Political pressures to develop a viable embryonic stem cell treatment are endangering women. A recent headline in USA Today, “Egg Donor Business Booms on Campus”, depicts how research facilities target women to donate their eggs. Jim Hopkins states, “potential risks, including nausea and diarrhea, from a condition known as "ovarian hyper stimulation syndrome”, and there is a ‘remote’ chance of death”.

Public confusion, political ideologies and agendas, along with media sensationalism continue to distort the issues over stem cell research. Politicians and the media rarely disseminate between embryonic and adult stem cell research during any discussion or debate; this technique adds confusion and distorts the truth. “Most types of stem cell research are morally acceptable and laudable. Only research using embryonic stem cells raises insuperable moral objections”.

The only way to eliminate the confusion is to eliminate the double-talk. Stem cell research is not, and should not be used as a platform to promote anyone’s ideologies. Research and examine the facts; ask medical professionals and doctors for information; then and only then can one develop an informed and conscientious opinion.

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