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QotD: Stem Cell Research

Question: What is and how do you feel about stem cell research?

My Answer: I'm not sure what it is exactly, which is part of the reason I'm asking the question. My current understanding (due to change in the next 30 minutes, no doubt) is that stem cell research involves the use of undifferentiated cells for the creation of new cells. These undifferentiated cells come from "donated" embryos that will not be put into a uterus for development and birthing. These undifferentiated cells can be used, scientists hope, to create a liver, or nervous tissue, or such. There exist 60 or so pre-existing stem cell lines, which should negate the need for further "harvesting" of stem cells from "donated" embryos. If my current understanding is at least close to accurate, then I support scientists who wish to pursue stem cell research with the existing stem cell lines. I do not know how I feel about scientists who wish to harvest and create new lines.

You are encouraged to answer the Question of the Day for yourself in the comments or on your blog.

14 Responses to "QotD: Stem Cell Research"

  1. Wikipedia on Stem Cells

    When you think that a good percentage of embryos created for invitro never implant, and some are never even put back in a uterus it seems a bit silly to deny the use of that 'spoilage' for research. Or should people not be trying invitro?

  2. Reminds me of some Southpark episode where Cartman clones a pizza booth using stem cells 😀

  3. I'm all for it.

  4. The problem, as I understand it, with the existing lines of embryonic stem cells is that they mutate over time. Some mutations are harmless, but over time all the existing lines will become unusable.

    In the meantime, other countries with, imo, somewhat more enlightened governments and populaces, will be able to continue to make advances in embyonic stem cell research while the U.S. will founder. Not only because of the lack of government funding, but also because some of the best and brightest minds in the field will literally move to those other countries so that they can do their research with less government restrictions.

    In order not to be appear to one-sided, I would also add that the U.S. should continue to be a leader in adult stem cell research. However, current indications are that it is not quite as promising. Though still of some potential value.

    Also, it may turn out that neither branch of research yields the results that we hope they can. But that's the purpose of research, no?

    Oh, and I agree with Gary. It does seem silly to "waste" unused embryos. As long as the donors consent, they should be used for research. I mean, not to be too morbid, but are they being given funerals with little coffins? C'mon, give me a break.


  5. I'll preface my comment with a bias warning: I'm a pro-life Catholic. Arguments are unlikely to sway me. As such, I'll simply lay down the pro-life position of things.

    1. Re: Gary. Correct, people should not be doing in-vitro, and for the same reasons people should not be harvesting dead children for research (I warned you, I'm pro-life; life is life, from conception to natural death). Actually, due to the number of failed implantations (significantly more than the body normally has, though it does have some) IVF ranks higher on my internal scale of "what the fuck were you guys thinking?" than SSR does.

    2. SSR is perfectly acceptable ... for adult stem cell lines or embryonic cells obtained from the placenta or umbilical cord (just as viable and they happen every day in every city). The problem Pro-Lifers have with harvesting embryonic stem cells lies not in the fact that the cells are used, but that when you obtain them them the action kills the child. Even if there were a method of taking the cells without it, there's no way to guarantee the action will not make the body reject the formation or cause later deformities that would cause the body to abort. That and you can get stem cells, embryonic or not, without killing children. So, no point other than laziness, IMO.

  6. As one of my best friends is dying of Leukaemia, I would be only too happy for stem cell research to be allowed so that we could possibly create some beneficial treatments for many forms of disease/cancer.

  7. Codepoet,

    You said, "I warned you, I'm pro-life; life is life, from conception to natural death". Does that also apply to cases of rape and/or incest? What about when in utero tests show that the baby will be severely handicapped either mentally or physically? Or perhaps be born with a terminal illness or defect which will cause them to suffer throughout their short (a few years at most) lives?

    Not trying to stir up trouble. I'm genuinely curious. To me, it seems far more inhumane to knowingly create a life which will either be mostly non-functional (in a mental sense) or in nearly constant pain with no hope of a cure due to their short life spans. Not to mention the emotional pain of bearing a child conceived in an act of violence.

    Fwiw, I do not believe in god or fate or destiny. So arguments such as, "God works in mysterious ways", or "It was meant to be" don't make any sense to me.


  8. How big are these stem cell lines? How much research can we get from these 60 lines?

  9. I was going to do a research paper on stem cell research, as I could benefit from it one day. However after looking into it in depth I came away with two conclusions. First I don't know where I stand, and that was kind of a weak argument to take for this argument research essay, yeah I'm lazy when it comes to English. Second there wasn't (two years ago almost now) a whole lot of researched documents to base a paper off of. There was a lot of the deep medical stuff that wasn't about addressing the ethical concerns, or it was fairly superficial opinion from the pro-life or the "pro-science" camps.

    I will try and recall what I learned here, but there may be errors. What I did learn was that stem cell research in the US really isn't restricted per se. Basically all research is funded by the government at least to some degree and if you want to do any research with government funds you have to follow certain guidelines. These include only using existing lines of embryonic cells. Adult cells and other stem cells that don't involve destroying the embryo are all fair game. Well apparently there isn't enough raw material from these existing lines to supply all of the people who have valid use for them in research. Some people think that embryonic stem cells are the best for research since they are the lowest common denominator, the can morph/change into any cell type where as adult stem cells are usually are tied to a broad type of cell, i.e. (this example may not be real but the idea is correct) nerve stem cell can become any type of nerve cell, muscle stem cell can become any type of muscle cell.

    I definitely agree with the brain drain possibility. I know a very bright doctor from Sweden that came over to the US to make pennies, live in a somewhat cramped apartment, compared to what he was making and a nice house cause it allowed him better access to research/equipment to help find a cure/treatment for something one of his children has.

  10. I have a very fundamental problem with any "sanctity of life" argument which this issue only brings forth all the more so. If life is so great, then why isn't more being done to bring the standard of living up? Denying sufficient research into stem cells may delay or even prevent procedures and cures that save many, many lives. Discarding otherwise good specimens does not preserve "human life" as far as I can tell. So does 60 strains amount to enough for sufficient research? From all that I've read from actual scientists (I immediately discount non-scientists from being able to tell scientists what they do with how much they get), there aren't 60 viable strains and however many are left will not be sufficient. I don't think it is right for government to impose restrictions on research into stem cells.

  11. Does that also apply to cases of rape and/or incest?

    If you wouldn't kill it after birth, don't kill it before birth. If the circumstances of the conception would cause you to murder a one-year-old then feel free to kill it sooner.

    I see exactly that much difference in the two actions; none.

  12. It sounds to me like this is a completely black and white issue in your mind. No gray areas at all.

    Following that logic, a woman with HIV who gets pregnant and then delivers an HIV positive child who subsequently dies of HIV should be immediately arrested for, at the very least, involuntary manslaughter, assuming she is still alive, of course. Oh, and lets not forget the father, too, if he was the one who originally infected the mother.

    How about two parents who, unafflicted themselves, carry the genes for a deadly disease. There's a 25% chance any children they conceive will develop the disease. They decide to have a child anyway. In utero tests confirm the child will develop the disease. So, by your logic, they have murdered their child no matter what they do.

    And let's not forget cases where the life of the mother will be significantly at risk. Should she be forced to attempt to carry a child knowing that there is a significant chance she will die as a result?

    My point is that this is not a clear cut issue. Imo, you shouldn't discount the circumstances of the pregnancy, whether those circumstances affect the mother and/or the child.

    Anyway, this has gotten way off the topic of stem cell research. Apologies to Erik and others.


  13. Rob: Being diseased is a far cry from ripping a child to pieces, either as a glob of cells or as a very large glob of cells resembling a person. Intentional killing is murder. So, yes, black and white. Nothing wrong with it.

    As for "life of the mother" arguments, well, case-by-case. While you can't place value on a human life, if the death of one will save another then it's something you have to consider, especially if either-or will die anyway (or both).

  14. We dont need stem cell research. All man needs is the Bible and Faith in Jesus. Terminal Illness should remain terminal. Its no coincidence that people who want to increase life spans are those who do not express a belief in the afterlife.