Wednesday, March 23, 2005



The promise of stem-cells

If you were looking for a reason why we should allow stem-cell research, tonight's news about Willie Terpstra ought to provide one. Terpstra suffers from Motor Neurone, and has flown to China to receive an experimental treatment aimed at halting the disease. The treatment consisted of injecting stem-cells directly into her brain; the result was an immediate improvement in her condition. Before the treatment, she could not speak and could barely swallow; after she could do both (though her vocal cords are obviously out of practice).

The treatment is experimental, and the effects may last as little as two weeks. There's also some risk of the stem cells forming tumours within the brain. But this is still nothing short of a medical miracle, and the effects are likely to improve (and become more predictable) as the treatment is perfected.

So why the hell would people object to a technology that shows so much promise? Why did Terpstra have to go to China rather than be treated here in New Zealand? The problem is that stem cells are currently sourced from human embryos, either from aborted fetuses (as in this case), or from blastocysts created by artificial insemination and grown in vitro specifically for the purpose. This has caused widespread opposition from the anti-abortion lobby. But their chief objection - that obtaining stem cells requires killing a human being - is about to become moot, as researchers have discovered that human adult stem cells can be differentiated into neural tissue in chicken eggs. In English, this means no need for abortions or embryonic cloning, as the cells can be sourced from the patient's own bone marrow (eliminating rejection problems into the bargain). I'd hope that even those who currently object to stem cell research on religious grounds would see that as a Good Thing.

6 comments:

By all means, we should use human adult stem cells. Also stem cells from umbilicus cord blood.

But stem cells from embryos/blastocycts either aborted or cultured are IMO unethical to use.

Posted by muerk : 3/23/2005 09:28:00 AM

By all means, we should use human adult stem cells. Also stem cells from umbilicus cord blood.

But stem cells from embryos/blastocycts either aborted or cultured are IMO unethical to use.

Posted by muerk : 3/23/2005 09:28:00 AM

Muerk: As a personhood theorist, it seems absolutely crazy to assign moral value to a blastocyst. We're talking about 150 cells here, with no brain, no feelings, not even any ability to experience suffering. What (or rather, who) is being harmed here?

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 3/23/2005 12:33:00 PM

Luddites of the right are just as annoying as luddites of the left.

I dont think its unethical to use them.... in fact it is unethical NOT to use them. What is unethical is a decision to abort for the purposes of use.

Now the law enforcement people can work out how to enforce that but thats how it is morally.

Posted by Genius : 3/23/2005 01:45:00 PM

"it seems absolutely crazy to assign moral value to a blastocyst."

Why? That is (pretty much) the initial form of a human existance. If not from the point at which an individual human is created, then when?

And it all depends on how you define "harm". You are taking it from a personal suffering and functional point of view. For a start it assumes that one human can define the quality and benefit of life of another.

Once you put limits on the humanity of another, you open yourself up to any human life being able to be defined out of importance.

If you want a Catholic theological view point then try reading this.

http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_19870222_respect-for-human-life_en.html

Posted by muerk : 3/24/2005 07:48:00 PM

how can you even consider blastocyst the initial form of human existance when they have a 75% failure rate of fertilizing into the womb?

Posted by Anonymous : 5/25/2007 12:09:00 PM