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Jack Sisson's Life Ethics Blog

We must find new ways through many ethical issues, especially regarding bioethics, medical ethics, and criminal justice. Jack Sisson's 'Life Ethics' blog focuses on numerous areas of concern, including the philosophical and ethical dilemmas surrounding stem-cell research, abortion, medical research, and health care.

In today's New York Times, this editorial points out that the recently announced new technique for obtaining stem cells without harming the embryo still faces opposition.
...religious conservatives have already denounced the technique, and the President’s Council on Bioethics, in a white paper evaluating alternative ways to produce stem cells, declared this approach “ethically unacceptable.
Why does this country have so much trouble separating religious beliefs from government decisions? The religious right's continuing objection to embryonic stem-cell research all but guarantees that we won't see increased federal funding until at least 2008, when W is finally out of office.

As for the new technique?
Mostly it illustrates the great lengths to which scientists must go these days to shape stem cell research to fit the dictates of religious conservatives who have imposed their own view of morality on the scientific enterprise.
How and when did religious conservatives (extremists?) get so much power? And when will we decide that enough is enough?

Scientists apparently let their enthusiasm lead them astray when announcing a new method for harvesting embryonic stem cells without destroying the embryo. First let's take a look at the online journal, Nature, where all the hoopla began:
A single cell can be teased from a human embryo and used to produce stem cells while leaving the embryo intact. The process, published online in Nature this week, could enable stem-cell lines to be generated without the controversial destruction of human embryos — but some ethical objections remain.

Embryonic stem cells, prized for their ability to make other tissue types, are typically extracted from an embryo that has developed into a hollow ball called a blastocyst. The process pulls the embryo apart and destroys it.

This week's paper shows that stem-cell lines can be grown from less developed embryos — balls of eight to ten cells — and the process could leave them unscarred
What the original announcement failed to mention was this:
Since then the team has taken cells from 16 spare IVF human embryos, and put them into culture. From a total of 91 cells, the researchers grew two embryonic stem-cell lines that have survived for eight months so far and are able to form different types of tissue. In the experiment, the embryos were dismantled cell by cell;
Whoa! Call me skeptical, but can scientist really dismantle embryos and leave them unscarred?

Apparently I'm not the only one wondering about this:
Landmark stem cell study disputed
Critic says researchers were deceptive when presenting their results

By RICK WEISS, Washington Post
First published: Saturday, August 26, 2006

WASHINGTON -- A landmark scientific report that was supposed to bridge the gap between proponents and opponents of human embryonic stem cell research has become the focus of an escalating feud, with a prominent critic of the research alleging that scientists were deceptive in presenting their results.
According to Weiss:
At the core of the battle is a widely distributed e-mail from Richard Doerflinger of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Among other points, Doerflinger said the scientists did not make clear that no embryos survived their experiments.
Seems like it's widely accepted that a single stem cell can be harvested from an eight-cell human embryo without noticeable harm to the embryo, but the article erred in not making clear that embryos were, in fact, destroyed in the cited tests.

Hmmm...wonder what the chances are that "noticeable harm" might not show up until much, much later? Imagine all of these 40-something people who'd had a single cell harvested during their pre-blastocyst age just walking around living their normal lives when, suddenly, things begin to go terribly wrong.

Or not. Probably wouldn't hurt to cut back on the science fiction reading for awhile though.

The Cherry Hill, NJ, Courier Post ran this opinion piece on its Web site. Here's the beginning:
Bush stuck by his personal beliefs when he vetoed a bill last month to expand publicly funded embryonic stem-cell research.

Bush believes embryos are the beginnings of human life, and that it is immoral to destroy them. This is what happens in embryonic stem-cell research.

Yet, every year, hundreds of frozen embryos are abandoned and thrown in the trash. Is it wrong to donate them for research that could save a life?

Bush says it is. But he stands far apart on this issue from most Americans. A majority see this research as potentially offering cures for medical conditions such as diabetes and severe spinal-cord injuries. They want the nation to go forward with this promising research, using their money to expand this area of science.
The column goes on to say: "More than two-thirds of respondents to our recent informal opinion poll said Bush was wrong to veto expanded federal funding for embryonic stem-cell research." Today's question -- just who exactly is Bush representing? His base is getting smaller and not as eager to blindly follow their leader wherever he may lead. Especially since most of us have, by now, at least peeked over the edge of the abyss.

Read the entire column here.

Should the president follow the will of the people on this and similar issues, or should he do what he wants because he believes the people elected him to lead? What do you think?

Out on Saturday's AP wire service was this story about the Florida Governor's race and its impact on stem-cell research in the state. You gotta love the Web. I found this in the San Jose Mercury News. (Yes, they're reading about us in California.)

It seems 3 out of 4 of Florida's top candidates for Governor support embryonic stem-cell research. Republican Charlie Crist, and Democrats Jim Davis and Rod Smith all support the state paying for research. Odd man out is Republican Tom Gallagher, who "sides with those who decry the practice as immoral because it involves the destruction of certain embryos, which opponents argue is the destruction of life."

Tom might want to reflect on the August 1 Rasmussen poll which shows Crist (whose support for the research is lukewarm but still there) leading Davis by five points, 47% to 42%, and leading Smith 48% to 35%. Meanwhile, Democrat Davis leads Gallagher 44% to 41%. Gallagher is losing percentage points to Smith, but still leads him by five.

Embryonic stem-cell research may not make or break this election, but Mr. Gallagher should consider that a clear majority of citizens favor this research. In a recent Miami Herald poll: "Seventy-nine percent of Democrats polled support federal funding for the research, compared with 51 percent of Republicans." Those numbers are significant enough to make any candidate take a second look, especially since the state electorate is deeply divided on almost every other issue.

If you live (or lived) in Florida, how strongly would this issue influence your vote?

This is the question posed by this article on the Baptist Press Web site. The question arose from Presidential spokesperson Tony Snow's statement that the President believes destroying embryos is murder. Snow back-pedaled later in the day after realizing he might have gone too far.

The Baptist Press obviously would not agree that Bush went too far:
But I think we can say a couple of things for certain. First, people who continue to participate in destroying human embryos while eschewing any serious moral reflection on the humanity of those embryos are at the very least morally guilty of something like negligent homicide.
And this:
They will argue that the need for medical advances outweighs the right of these embryonic humans not to be killed. Anyone who makes that kind of an argument while destroying human embryos is morally culpable of murder as it is defined in law and in the Bible.
Read the entire article here. Or better, let us know what YOU think by making a comment.

Brain Pills
Roe v. Wade
Stem Cells
Stem Cell Fight!
Bearing Right
Moral Monkey?
Dave's site
Stem Stall
Bush the hypocrite

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