Democrats Support Babykillers

2009/03/09

Yes, you read that title correctly.

Given the news this morning WRT embryonic stem cell research, this is the road on which we, as a nation, now find ourselves. First, a clarification, in case we start off on the wrong foot: I am not opposed to government investment in scientific research; when applied correctly, this can be a great thing. It can also be a dangerous thing, and I’m not entirely sure that supporters of this particular type of research have fully thought out the ramifications of their advocacy.

Let’s be clear: my concern here is not so much with the near-term consequences of this decision; due to its uncertain nature, research in this field is unlikely to pay off substantially in the new few years or even in the next decade (as is the case with most research and development). My concern is with where this road will lead us, if and/or when the research does produce usable results. If there are usable results, what are the limits we are willing to accept for the use of such results, especially if there are wide-ranging applications for said results?

Would we accept government-funded embryo farms, where human embryos are cultured and stored solely for the use of therapies that benefit one human life at the expense of destroying another? What if the costs are too high for the average citizen? Will there be a black market for embryo procurement, and how would we (or could be) police such a thing? What if the treatments require the harvesting of multiple embryos to support a single patient? What is the acceptable limit for embryo harvesting to support a single patient? How do we make such a determination?

Let us be clear about what this kind of research will require. It will require the destruction of human life. Supporters will argue, of course, that embryos are not afforded the same legal protection as full-fledged humans, but this is a specious argument, at best. Scientifically speaking, there is no point in time when the genetic material that constitues even the separate components of said embryo (the sperm and egg) were not human. The DNA involved was and always will be human, no matter the stage at which you want to look at it. This is indisputable.

Supporters will also argue that the embryos used for the research are unwanted leftovers from fertility treatments, willing donors, etc. To my mind, however, this is not the right stage at which to argue this point; a better question to ask is, should these fertility treatments be creating so many ‘waste’ embryos? Its all well and good to argue that we are passively accepting a benefit that exists regardless of whether or not research is being conducted on said ‘waste’ embryos, but is this as far as we are willing to go in asking the hard questions regarding this and other aspects of manipulating human life for potentially limited benefits?

Generally speaking, I don’t like the idea of government legislating on matters of morality; after all, there are other institutions in place to police such matters. That being said, I’m not sure I like the idea of our government funding research that requires collectively dipping our hands in blood to further what, for now, are only ‘promising’ avenues of inquiry. Given that the last few years have produced equally promising research results from non-embryonic sources, it is quite possible that we may not even need embryonic stem cells. [1][2][3] Limitations on scientific research is not necessarily a bad thing. Just ask Dr. Mengele’s patients. Ethical limitations themselves can just as easily lead to breakthroughs as the removal of said limitations.

There are many questions that currently remain unresolved. Perhaps we should explore them now, at the start of the road, rather than further along the way, when the same questions will still apply, and even harder ones may emerge.

Notes:

[1]: Wait…we can make stem cells from hair? http://www.nature.com/stemcells/2008/0810/081030/full/stemcells.2008.142.html

[2]: Reprogramming adult cells to behave like stem cells: http://www.nature.com/stemcells/2009/0902/090212/full/stemcells.2009.28.html

[3]: Who needs stem cells, anyways? http://www.nature.com/stemcells/2008/0812/081230/full/stemcells.2008.161.html

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