Marlowe's Shade

Monday, August 22, 2005

That Which Secular Science Overlooks

As posted on ProLifeBlogs a few days ago, a new form of stem cell has been discovered that could make the ethical debate on this subject moot.

A reported breakthrough in stem cell research may lend new weight to the campaign against the use of human embryos in research, one of the most pressing ethical controversies facing governments in the U.S. and elsewhere.

American and British researchers say that they have found, in umbilical cord blood, a new type of cell -- neither embryonic nor "adult" -- which is more versatile than the latter while avoiding the ethical dilemmas surrounding the former.

And in a further development, the scientists have found a way to mass-produce the new cells, sidestepping the problem of limited supply of embryonic cells.

Adult stem cells are already being use to treat 65 ailments, so the discovery of these even more versatile cells further brightens an already promising outlook. So why the continued hype over embryonic stem cells?

This announcement prompted an insight that there seem to be numerous beneficial discoveries like that that would have been overlooked if embryonic stem cell research became the vanguard of this kind of therapeutic research. In fact it argues strongly in favor of why ES research should NOT be funded by our government when more exciting, ethical and absolutely viable alternatives exist that will attract their own funding. A brief but thorough overview can be found here.

Embryonic stem cell research is pursued by those who have rejected the ethical considerations and there is a self-filtering aspect to this. Also by promoting their line of inquiry as being superior to that of the adult and other forms of stem cells, they have effectively painted themselves into a corner and must continue in that line. So why would a researcher stake their career on this all or nothing prospect?

I certainly can't say for sure, but my theory is that there are two explanations. One is the same line of reasoning that drove the Manhattan Project to build the atomic bomb, which is "If we don't do it, they will". This motivated the scientists and researchers to override the ethical qualms they had. No doubt if we don't pursue this, researchers in places like South Korean will. But again to what end? Here, as I have mentioned before, is where I think the issue of cloning raises it's ugly head. ES research makes no sense at all unless you have a way to mass produce embryos, and until the announcement above, that was the only way to produce enough stem cell lines to effect a real cure. I think ES research represents not only a utilitarian end run around a number of practical problems at the expense of ethics, but also it is a way of desensitizing us to the specter of cloning research. Even for those of us who don't view this as a spiritual abomination, there are sufficient practical reasons based on the law of unintended consequences for avoiding this disastrous step.

So to return to an earlier point, we see two camps developing in the stem cell debate that may someday extend to the research community at large. One seems open at least to the possibility that near miraculous cures are embedded in a matrix of Creation awaiting discovery by those wise and clever enough to look for them. The other camp believes the only treasures they will find are those of their own creation. I think that scientific history so far has made a good case that the former group will find it's search more fruitful. But it is also likely that the unintended consequences of the research of the latter may bring all history to a foreseeable end.
papijoe 7:23 AM