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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.

 
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.

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