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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.

Here's another reason to support stem-cell research:
Stefan Heller's dream is to someday find a cure for deafness.

As a leader in stem cell-based research on the inner ear at the Stanford University School of Medicine, he's got a step-by-step plan for making this dream a reality.

It may take another decade or so, but if anyone can do it, he's the guy to place your bets on.

"Everyone asks, 'How long before we do this?'" said Heller, PhD, associate professor of otolaryngology, whose accent still bears the trace of his native Germany. "I tell them the devil is in the details."

But even at the national level, those in the research community remain hopeful that Heller's work will reap successes sooner rather than later. Heller will discuss his stem cell research during a panel discussion Feb. 17 in San Francisco at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. The session is titled "Hearing health: The looming crisis and what can be done about it."

James Battey, MD, director of the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, lauded Heller as "one of the leading auditory neuroscientists" and points to his stem cell regeneration research as a high priority for the institute.

Heller's vision is to develop a variety of possible cures for deafness. For the past year and a half, since coming to Stanford from Harvard, he's been focused on two paths: drug therapy -which could be as simple as an application of ear drops - and stem cell transplantation into the inner ear to remedy hearing loss.

Currently he's working on perfecting the steps toward eventual stem cell transplantation into humans, with the goal of first curing deafness in mice within the next five years.

Read the entire article on BBS News. There's even a picture of a female embryonic stem cell.

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I didn't think I could lose more respect for Sen. John McCain than I did after the way he let himself be used by Dubya during the last presidential campaign. But now, with his own presidential aspirations at stake, he's saying whatever his advisors deem to be politically expedient, anything to ensure his name on the party's ticket. From CBS News:
Republican presidential candidate John McCain, looking to improve his standing with the party's conservative voters, said Sunday the court decision that legalized abortion should be overturned.

"I do not support Roe versus Wade. It should be overturned," the Arizona senator told about 800 people in South Carolina, one of the early voting states.

McCain also vowed that if elected, he would appoint judges who "strictly interpret the Constitution of the United States and do not legislate from the bench."
Great. Just what this country needs. Haven't the "conservative voters" been paying attention to what's been going on these past few years? Will someone please tell me how this country is better off than it was before Bush took office? In what teensy tiny way are we better off? I sure can't think of one. And now McCain wants to re-enter the Dark Ages and send women back to the illegal and dangerous abortions of the past. I could not be more disappointed.

Read the entire article.

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Dr. Maureen L. Condic is an Assistant Professor of Neurobiology and Anatomy at the University of Utah. She is currently conducting research on the regeneration of embryonic and adult neurons following spinal cord injury. In 2003, she published an article in First Things: The Journal of Religion, Culture and Public Life. The title of the article is "Life: Defining the Beginning by the End," and I highly recommend that you read it.

From the article:
In contrast to the widespread disagreement over when human life begins, there is a broad social and legal consensus regarding when human life ends. Rarely has the point been made that the definition of human death can be applied to the question of when life commences with compelling symmetry. The definition of when life ends is both scientific and objective, and does not depend on personal belief or moral viewpoint. The current medical and legal understanding of death unambiguously defines both when human life ends and when it begins in a manner that is widely accepted and consistent with the legal and moral status of human beings at all stages of life.
In using criteria of death to determine criteria for human life, Dr. Condic takes a similar route as Dr. Hans-Martin Sass of the Kennedy Institute of Ethics at Georgetown University , whose work inspired Jack to start this blog. (Sass specifically looks to brain death in formulating his hypothesis.) What's interesting is that they arrive at completely different conclusions. For those of you not familiar with Dr. Sass's work:
In 1989, Sass published a paper titled "Brain Life and Brain Death: A Proposal for a Normative Agreement." Sass first looked at established definitions of brain death, and reasoned that society could reach a consensus for protecting embryonic life by applying similar criteria for brain life. Sass identified two levels of brain development. Cortical Brain Life I occurs with post-mitotic stationary neurons forming the early cortical plate -- 54 days after conception. Cortical Brain Life II recognizes the beginning of cortical neuro-neuronal synapes -- 70 days after conception. Sass hoped for a moral consensus by recognizing Brain Life II (the 70th day) as the point after which embryonic research would be unacceptable. Before that time, research, and presumably abortions, would be acceptable.
Even though we disagree with Dr. Condic's final position, her argument is intelligent and well reasoned. Please take the time to read her paper. It's an excellent example of the level of discourse needed on this topic.

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Robert P. George, McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence and director of the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions at Princeton University, says, "The reason we should be opposed is a moral reason. [Embryonic stem cell research] involves, at least for now, the destruction of innocent human life to obtain the cells."

George went on to compare embryonic stem cell research with harvesting organs from mentally retarded infants. Talk about apples and oranges! No one disputes that infants, mentally retarded or not, are human beings. Whether embryos are human beings is being widely debated, however, and linking scientists working with 3-5 days old embryos with baby killers is insulting, not to mention overly dramatic.

"An embryo must be regarded as a human being because the embryo is 'a distinct and complete human organism in its earliest stage of development,' George said." This is the same position taken by the Religious Right, the Pope, and George Bush. A great many people disagree, however, and offer various opinions on exactly when the embryo becomes a human being. Some base it on brain development, others to breath, still others to viability outside the womb, and so on.

The reality is that we're no closer to agreeing on the beginning of human life than we've ever been. For example, I still question why it's more moral to give preference to microscopic clusters of cells over living, breathing, suffering human beings. If anyone has a better reason than the ones I've been given so far, I'd really like to hear it.

Read the complete article.

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In a recent Ezine article, Yvonne Perry, the owner of Write On! Creative Writing Services based in Nashville, Tennessee, accuses the media of giving "the public some misleading and non-factual information about embryonic stem cell research." To futher make her point, Yvonne is "writing a book titled Right to Recover: Winning The Political And Religious Wars Over Stem Cell Research In America. It presents a reasoned voice that will challenge the misinformation, educate people with facts to help secure federal funds for embryonic stem cell research."

To read more about what Yvonne has to say about embryonic stem-cell research, and to get information on her upcoming book, check out this site.

And here's the home page for Yvonne's writing services.

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I'm sure there are many Floridians not bothered at all by Charlie Crist's complete 180-degree turn around on embryonic stem-cell research. During his campaign for governor, Crist argued in favor of stem-cell research using embryos scheduled to be destroyed, and even went so far as to criticize President Bush for vetoing the bill that would have expanded federal funding to include such research.

What happened in the intervening months to change Crist's mind? Or did he change it at all? Knowing that the majority of Americans, including Floridians, favor embryonic stem-cell research, was Crist merely courting votes with his public stance? I wonder how many votes were influenced by the stem-cell issue? It's always troubling when a politician doesn't follow through on campaign promises, but it's particularly maddening when one completely reverses himself, as in this case.

Oh well, there's always someone on the other side grateful for the switch.

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Governor Charlie Crist pledged last week to devote $20 million to stem-cell research. But like Bush's federal plan, the money's for adult stem-cell research only. Research using embryonic stem cells is still an extremely divisive issue, and Crist took the politically expedient route. From the Tallahassee Democrat:
Crist is attempting to sidestep the debate altogether. Limiting use of state money to adult stem cells from places like umbilical cord blood and amniotic fluid, along with embryonic lines produced before 2001, appeases religious groups and a skeptical Florida Legislature alike.
According to Crist:
he was less interested in trying to make a ''political point'' by supporting embryonic research than getting Florida on the board for funding stem cell research.

''It may not be as far as some would like it to be,'' Crist said. ''But I think it's important to have a good first step, one that is successful.''
Dr. William Kerr,associate professor at the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center and Research Institute in Tampa spoke for many scientists across the state:
"We know there are limitations on adult stem cells. We haven't been able to overcome those,'' Kerr said. ''We view embryonic as a way to overcome those obstacles. That doesn't mean it's guaranteed . . . but if we don't experiment with them, we'll never know."

Regardless, researchers using stem cells in Florida say the money is desperately needed because federal research dollars have been basically capped for years.
Read the entire article here.

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

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