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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.

 
I think it's a good idea to occasionally share with our readers what other bloggers are writing on our subject. As you can imagine, a lot of it supports human life beginning at conception. Although neither Jack nor his two writers (John and Toni) ascribe to that belief, we all still respect those who do. We too respect human life; we just don't agree on when that life begins.

The following is from
The Write Bailiwick: Musings on Law and Life. It's written by one Emmel Philips, which the author admits is a pseudonym. What follows is a section of her post from a few days ago:
Anyway, I still believe that those supporting choice are not irrational, but make a fundamental mistake about when human life begins or ensoulment occurs. I assume that abortion supporters stop short of advocating infanticide. I also assume that they do not believe that the status of the (what to call it? every term is loaded!) fetus depends on the intent of the mother to bear or abort. (Really, that’s a lousy argument.) Thus, at some point something actually happens in reality, and everyone (except Peter Singer) recognizes a human person that should not be killed. When is that critical moment? Those supporting abortion rights consider the fetus, at least at early stages, to be just a blob of tissues. Removing a blob of tissues is not morally problematic. Thus, why not abort? I, however, will not support the proposition that the blob of tissues is not a living human being or that it lacks a soul for several reasons. (Caveat: this is a blog post, not a moral treatise, so this is the gist of argumentation, not its most eloquent form. For fuller defenses see here (be sure to click on the titles for the non-summary version of arguments). See also here.) Primarily, when considering critical and unknowable questions such as the beginning of human life or ensoulment, it is most prudent to err on the side of caution. Caution dictates that conception is the moment at which all the genes come together to create a unique person, distinct from the mother or father, not just an Aristotelian potential. Science also continues to reveal more and more about fetal development that suggests an early beginning of life. Ending another person’s life is morally problematic, unlike removing a blob of tissue.
Read the entire post.

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President George W. Bush
SLATE, By William Saletan, Jan. 24, 2008 --
Admiring portrayals of George W. Bush always expose, inadvertently, what's wrong with him. "Steady leadership," the theme of his 2004 re-election ads, was a case in point. Bush has always been too certain to admit error, too steady to turn the wheel when the road bent, and too preoccupied with principle to understand that principle wasn't enough. That was his downfall in Iraq. It's also why he pushed through his 2001 tax cuts even after the circumstances that originally justified them vanished.

Now the former White House aide who coordinated the formulation of Bush's stem-cell policy has published an account of how the president reached his decision. The reporting is new, but the story is familiar. Once again, the case for Bush is the case against him.

The account, published in Commentary, comes from Jay Lefkowitz, who served as a senior domestic-policy adviser to Bush until 2003. Lefkowitz calls Bush's 2001 deliberations "a model of how to deal with the complicated scientific and ethical dilemmas that will continue to confront political leaders in the age of biotechnology." He describes Bush swatting away a National Right to Life polling memo. The president "came to a moderate, balanced decision that drew a prudent and principled line," based not on polls but on "lengthy study and consultation with people of widely divergent viewpoints," Lefkowitz writes. That's Bush: serious, principled, indifferent to pressure.

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Bush decided to fund research on stem-cell lines made from embryos that were destroyed before Aug. 9, 2001—the day he announced his policy—but not afterward. He pegged this compromise to factual calculations. He claimed there were "more than 60 genetically diverse stem cell lines," enough "to explore the promise and potential of stem cell research." Three days after his speech, in a New York Times op-ed, he wrote, "According to the National Institutes of Health, these lines are genetically diverse and sufficient in number for the research ahead."

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The facts began to change right away. New information and analysis challenged Bush's assumptions about the existing cell lines' numerical sufficiency, genetic diversity, and stability. People who worked with Bush argue that these problems never became consequential enough to change the policy. But Bush's comments show no sign that he was willing even to consider this possibility. A day after his op-ed ran, Bush cut off reporters' questions about the policy. "I spent a lot of time on the subject," he reminded them. "I laid out the policy I think is right for America. And I'm not going to change my mind. I'm the kind of person that when I make up my mind, I'm not going to change it."

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And, in that instance, Bush spoke the truth. He hasn't changed his mind, even though last March, his own NIH Director, Elias Zerhouni, "confirmed that Bush's initial rationale no longer matched the facts." According to a spokeswoman, Bush "weighed this issue very carefully back in 2001, and has thought about it since. And he believes that that clear moral line that he established back in August of 2001 is a good place for the country to be."

I encourage you to read the complete article.

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Not everyone's happy with the recent stem-cell breakthrough. Read on:

Baptist Press
, Jan 21, 2008, WASHINGTON (BP)--Scientists used cells from aborted babies in recently reported research that has been hailed as a breakthrough in the ethical development of embryonic-like stem cells.

Pro-life advocates decried the abortion connection, but bioethicists said the newly successful technique could be utilized without the employment of such cells and thereby be considered ethical.

Research teams in Wisconsin and Japan reported in November they had converted adult skin cells in human beings into the functional equivalent of embryonic stem cells. Pro-lifers hailed the development because the scientists had found a way to produce the stem cells with seemingly the most potential for providing therapies for debilitating afflictions while avoiding the destruction of human embryos.

Children of God for Life, however, reported Jan. 8 the researchers had used cells from aborted fetal cell lines to produce a virus to reprogram the adult cells into embryonic-like stem cells. The organization, which monitors stem cell research and the presence of aborted fetal cells in medical products, said the Wisconsin team also utilized material from embryonic stem cells in its research.

"Using aborted fetal and embryonic stem cells from deliberately destroyed human beings is certainly not any kind of moral victory," said Debi Vinnedge, director of Children of God for Life.

Southern Baptist bioethicist C. Ben Mitchell said, "The principle is clear: Science should never perform an evil act -- or contribute to evil acts -- in order to achieve good ends. So, deriving therapies from electively aborted fetuses ethically taints the discovery.

Continue reading.

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Not everyone's impressed with the scientists at Stemagen Corp's newest accomplishment. Led by Andrew French, the team cloned five human embryos using donated DNA from skin cells. Because there has been such a moral divide over the use of embryonic stem cells in research, many researchers have now diverted their efforts toward finding new ways to develop the embryonic cells, ways that don't destroy the human embryo.
Scientists are investigating the use of embryonic stem cells because they can turn into other types of cells, theoretically replacing damaged tissue in the brain, heart and immune system, and curing diseases such as diabetes and Alzheimer's.)

"Stemagen is trying to develop ways to produce embryonic stem cells for treatment and research," French said.
But, and this is a big one, that is not enough for some (many?) in the anti-research crowd. Check out the following example:
For some this is the answer the the ESC research dilemma, the embryonic life has been spared and the scientists still get their stem cells. But those who think so, just don’t get it. Mary Meets Dolly weighs in on the number of ways this method is still unethical:
1. It is unethical to create a human embryo in a dish and treat it like a commodity,
2. Embryo biopsy is not always successful and therefore still destroys embryos, if only part of the time, and
3. What happens to the embryo after a piece of it is sucked out? Will it actually be implanted? Or does it go back in the deep freeze?
An excellent assessment. It is not merely the destruction of the human embryo, but the very creation and use of innocent human life for scientific advantage that makes such research unethical.
Take no prisoners. Make no compromises. Put the blinders on and plug up your ears. Now, do you think we can reasonably discuss this?

Read the entire post here.

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San Francisco Chronicle, Friday, January 18, 2008 --Scientists at a California company reported Thursday that they have created the first mature cloned human embryos from single skin cells taken from adults, a significant advance toward the goal of growing personalized stem cells for patients suffering from various diseases.

Creation of the embryos - grown from cells taken from the La Jolla company's chief executive and one of its investors - also offered sobering evidence that few, if any, technical barriers may remain to the creation of cloned babies.

Five of the new embryos grew in laboratory dishes to the stage that fertility doctors consider ready for transfer to a woman's womb - a degree of development that clones of adult humans have never achieved.

No one knows whether those embryos were healthy enough to grow into babies. But the study leader, who is also the medical director of a fertility clinic, said they looked robust, even as he emphasized that he has no interest in cloning people.

"It's unethical and it's illegal, and we hope no one else does it either," said Samuel Wood, chief executive of Stemagen, whose skin cells were cloned and who led the study with Andrew French, the firm's scientific officer.

The closely held company hopes to make embryos that are clones, or genetic twins, of patients, then harvest stem cells from those embryos and grow them into replacement tissues. When transplanted into patients, the tissues would not be rejected because the immune system would see them as "self."

"All our efforts are being directed toward personalized medicine and diseases," said Wood, adding that the scientists did not try to extract stem cells from the first embryos they made because they were focused on proving they could make the clones.

Continue reading.

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The Philadelphia Inquirer, Fri, Jan. 18, 2008 -- Five human embryos were cloned using donated DNA from skin cells, a technique that may lead to treatments based on patients' own stem cells.

Researchers said the DNA came from the skin of two men, while three women donated eggs. The research, led by Andrew French, the chief science officer of the closely held biotechnology company Stemagen Corp., is detailed in a report published today by the journal Stem Cells.

Scientists at Harvard University and the University of California San Diego are also trying to inject human DNA into eggs to make embryos that would yield stem cells that could be used to develop novel therapies, a process sometimes called therapeutic cloning.

The new study is the first to show that DNA from a human skin cell can be combined with an egg to reach a stage of embryonic development, called a blastocyst, capable of producing stem cells, researchers said.

"We were able to take advantage of the best donated material from young donors and new scientific tools for growing the cells that helped us be successful," French said yesterday.

A blastocyst is a ball of about 100 cells that occurs early in embryonic development. Embryonic stem cells, which give rise to all of the body's tissues and organs, exist briefly inside the blastocyst.

Continue reading.


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