Wednesday, August 23, 2006

What Exactly Is Ethically Challenging About Embryonic Stem-Cell Research?

It happens so often that it is easy to become immune to major media outlets adopting the language of President Bush and the extremist right-wing of the GOP.

Another example was found today in a story in the Los Angeles Times, concerning a possible new approach to gathering embryonic stem cells that would allegedly not result in the destruction of the embryo.

Right at the start, Karen Kaplan writes, "Scientists announced today the creation of human embryonic stem cells using a technique that does not require the destruction of any embryos, a development that offers a path to break the political logjam over the highly touted but ethically troubled research."

Ethically troubled? According to who? Certainly not the vast majority of Americans who have indicated in polls that they are in favor of such research.

And what about the insincerity on this aspect of the issue from right-wing fanatics represented by George Bush, who himself, equates embryonic stem cell research with murder? For the record, while Tony Snow apologized for using the 'm' word, Bush never did for saying it was the "taking of innocent life."

The proposal for embryonic stem-cell research is to make positive use of the thousands of discarded embryos being harvested at fertility clinics. If the Bushies really thought it was a matter of ethics, why have they not tried closing down these clinics and sought to prevent so many embryos from being harvested and discarded?

It's the same type of hypocrisy one sees when a right-winger says that we had to go into Iraq, but then has no response when asked why we didn't invade other countries ruled by tyrants, such as North Korea.

Back to my question...what makes this so ethically troubling for Ms. Kaplan?

As one reads further into the article, the obligatory moral equivalency comes into play, with both sides getting their punches in. Maybe the L.A. Times science writer should do that with the theory of evolution, too. What's the difference?

It is no surprise that Kaplan gives the evangelicals the following parting shot:

Richard M. Doerflinger, secretariat for pro-life activities for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington, D.C., said the safety of the single-cell biopsy procedure had not been scientifically established.

"Some embryos do not survive the process, and some survivors may have long-term effects later in life," he said.

Fertility specialists who perform the procedure — dubbed pre-implantation genetic diagnosis, or PGD — acknowledge that there have not been any scientific efforts to study its effect on embryos or to track the children after they are born.

Between 20% and 25% of couples that use PGD to make sure their children don't wind up with genetic diseases like cystic fibrosis end up with healthy babies through in vitro fertilization, said Dr. Joe Leigh Simpson, an OB-GYN and professor of molecular and human genetics at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. That compares to a success rate of 28.3% for all IVF patients, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"There's every reason to think that it's safe," Simpson said. "But the bottom line is, there are insufficient data to prove that it's safe or not safe."

Whether stem cells derived from this technique could be eligible for federal funds may hinge on that question. Congress forbids the funding of research in which a human embryo or embryos are destroyed, discarded or knowingly subjected to risk of injury or death.

"Can I reassure people who have put this language on our appropriation that not even one time in a thousand a single-cell biopsy won't harm an embryo?" said Dr. James F. Battey, who chairs the stem cell task force at the National Institutes of Health. Without the necessary research, he said, "I can't do that."

This man is concerned with 1 time in a thousand when there are millions that would be helped if embryonic stem-cell research led to cures?

Maybe somebody can pose the following question to this representative of the American Taliban...why can't you share the same concern and compassion for living Americans with incurable diseases and debilitating conditions, as you do for embryos that are harvested and later destroyed?

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