Marlowe's Shade

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

More Debate on Adult vs. Embryonic Stem Cells

In a response to one of my posts at ProLifeBlogs on the profit motive in embryonic stem cell research, Toni from The Beginning of Human Life posted this comment:

Profit has got to be one of the least concerns when advocating embryonic stem cell research. The fact remains that embryonic stem cells may develop into virtually every type of cell in the human body. That remains to be proven for adult stem cells. The primary motivation behind the push for embryonic stem cell research is that it holds the most potential for a multitude of research avenues.

As far as there being no profit motive, the bio-tech industry would disagree. As this letter from the Biotechnology Industry Organization states, their members are actively lobbying to avoid a therapeutic cloning ban so they can pursue these patentable cures. They are also lobbying to augment their venture capital with government grants. By double dipping they seek to offset the risk of funding their own research and maximizing their return. The bottom line is...well, their bottom line.

Toni does bring up one issue that those opposed to ESCR seldom address. What excites researchers with no ethical qualms about embryonic stem cells is their pluripotency, or ability to change into any type of cell. Adult stem cells are typically multipotent, they can change into several types of related cells. The constantly ignored fact is that despite this potential, ESCR has never been effectively used in a treatment and even in animal research has show several undesirable side effects. Adult stem cells on the other hand have been used in 65 treatment and there is every reason to think that a multipotent stem cell will be found for every therapeutic need. Such discoveries seem to be announced on an almost weekly basis. Also according to Wikipedia, researchers at New York University School of Medicine have found pluripotent stem cells in the bone marrow of mice so the discovery of pluripotent adult human cells is very likely.

Toni also highlights the ethical divide in the debate:

I still don't understand how and/or why people prioritize a blastocyst (read dot) over living, breathing human beings, children and adults, who suffer daily and pray for cures. I'm still looking for someone to explain it convincingly.

For most who opposed ESCR, belief in a Creator and an absolute moral imperative not to mess with His creation are the motivation. Proponents of ESRC simple reject the imperative if not the whole foundation of this belief. But perhaps there is another way to address this. No one can dispute that each embryo is unique and would have a hard time denying the intrinsic value of that uniqueness. Toni herself is no less unique now than when she was an embryo and we can assume that those who love her would object strongly to destroying her when she was "just a dot" if they had known then what they know now about that uniqueness they cherish. Certainly some embryos are destroyed by circumstances that don't involve direct human choice. Whether the agency was random chance, God's will, or cause and effect doesn't justify intentional destruction. Taking away the uniqueness of any being, by destruction or copying is inherently wrong.

I think it's ironic that the "pluripotency" or latent potential that proponents of ESCR find so alluring in stem cells doesn't extend to the human potential of the embryos themselves. In the utilitarian ethical model that justifies abortion, ESCR, euthanasia, etc, the less "developed" or "conscious" the being, the less valuable. Yet in fact, the actual potential of a human life is almost limitless in it's younger stages and can even be described as pluripotent in the sense that the possibilities for that person are myriad. Then as we get older and more "specialized" our potential also becomes more limited. But apparently the proponents of ESCR feel that an embryo is the only one that has no right to it's own potential.

Crossposted at ProLifeBlogs
papijoe 12:03 PM