Previous posts in this discussion:
PostStem-Cell Research (John Heelan, -UK, 06/14/13 6:18 am)
Istvan Simon (13 June) acknowledges that there are important ethical issues involved in the area of experimentation on human cells in his characteristically spirited defence of his investment in stem-cell research (and the good of the US, "where most of this work is being done").
As a non-scientist, I understand that human embryos reach the stage at which stem cells are useful some 4-5 days after fertilisation, and that isolating the bit useful for experimentation usually results in the destruction of the embryo itself (other than the company in which Istvan has his investment apparently). So the ethical question revolves on whether the human embryo has a right to life or not. Some people believe that the still unexplained "miracle of life" occurs at fertilisation, others suggest a development time after which "life" can be said to exist. The ethical conundrum exists whether or not the embryo is destroyed as part of the experimentation, or by parental wish not to store excess embryonic cells resulting from IVF.
Istvan deftly avoids that conundrum by arguing, a little speciously perhaps, that a human cell is not a human being. Of course not--few of us grieve over the flakes of skin that we shed every night. However, is a human embryo a human being? Left to natural gestation, would that embryo evolve naturally into a person?
The nature of scientific enquiry is "project creep," as scientists extrapolate known science to search for the next step in trying to understand what causes "life." So, one could speculate that a scientific step in the future might well be to work out how human embryos could be developed into living beings outside the womb. If successful, then Aldous Huxley's prediction that the Brave New World babies were "decanted from bottles rather than being born" would have some truth behind it.
At this point the ethics would become even more difficult.
JE comments: I've changed the topic line of this discussion thread to "ethics." Previously it was "food"--not a tasteful choice here.
(Istvan Simon, USA
06/15/13 3:26 PM)
Maybe I am ethically less astute than John Heelan (12 June), but I see no new conundrum, ethical or otherwise, in his post.
From an ethical standpoint, I don't see how embryonic cells are any different from the skin cells John sheds at night. I see no difference. After all Dolly did not start life as an embryo, and yet she was a perfectly nice little sheep made in a laboratory in Scotland from Dolly's "mother"'s somatic cells.
If this is so, why would an embryo have any more of a right to life than a skin cell?
In any case, irrespective of what some people may believe or not about the "miracle of life," and whether they believe that this occurs at conception or not, stem cell research brings no new ethical problems, because the embryos already exist.
By logic, either embryos have a right to become babies or not. But if embryos have a right to become babies--a right which is not recognized by any country that I know of-- then all the fertility work for infertile couples violates that right, because plenty of embryos are created which do not become babies, which are then discarded. Yet, fertility work has been going on for 35 years, and by now it has been generally accepted: there are four million "test-tube babies" that have been born all around the world. Therefore, it seems to me that the ethical issues were also resolved to most people's satisfaction: most people have now accepted implicitly that embryos do not have a right to become babies--because that is the implication of the fertility work which has been accepted in most countries, and as far as I know, is not being challenged anywhere on ethical grounds.
It follows that there is nothing wrong or new ethically in getting stem cells from already existing embryos, even if the embryo is destroyed in the process, because as I said above most people have already accepted much before this work even began that the embryo does not have a right to life.
By the way, the stem cell company that I mentioned without naming in a previous post is Advanced Cell Technology Corporation. John is welcome to check that they indeed do not destroy the embryo from which they grow their embryonic stem cells:
JE comments: Just a rhetorical question. If there is no ethical conundrum in destroying embryos when doing stem-cell research, why then does Advanced Cell Technology pride itself in not destroying them?