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« Why NOT Embryonic Research? | Main | New Encyclical »

November 26, 2007

Comments

Kathy

Sadly enough, there are many researchers (such as those at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln) who are saying that this is no reason to abandon embryonic stem cell research. I believe that this is because they have invested heavily in ESCR.

Foxfier

Kathy-- if you step outside of any sane morality, it's easy to see why ESCR is so popular.

You're able to do human experimentation without it *looking* like humans, so you get new results that none of those stupid, "moral" folks could get, AND you don't have that nasty little twinge.

I mean, they don't look like me, so how can they be human?

(...I don't have to explain that was for effect, do I? It's the internet...I'll do so anyways....)

Chad

Being a technologist, I'm a little biased, but I'm convinced that technology will solve most of our social and technical woes. Things like pollution, global warming (note the little g and little w), a lot of medical problems, and now the stem cell debate.

The key is that we must remain firm about morality and ethics and ensure that the technology is being researched and used in accordance with God's Will (like we've been doing in the stem cell debate)

.c

Memphis Aggie

Adult stems cell therapy is inherantly better than ESC even if you ignore the moral issue. Not only do adult stem stems work better than embryonic stem cells in the clinic, but for some diseases they can be genetically derived from the patient and thereby obviate the use of anti-rejection drugs.

Bone marrow transplantation is essentially an adult stem cell therapy that has saved the lives of children and adults with leukemia and sickle cell anemia for years.

However since these facts don't sit well with the worldview of the media, there are buried in favor of what little evidence can be scratched up to support ESCR.

Michael

I believe that this is because they have invested heavily in ESCR.

To a scientist who does not believe that embryos are human beings, why abandon ESCR for a non-identical substitute?

If you examine the research, what these researchers have created is a pluripotent cell that looks and acts like an ES cell. This doesn't mean that it actually is an ES cell. Furthermore we don't even know why these few genes are enough to reprogram the somatic cells. They will undoubtedly be useful as models and will probably be widely used, particularly if the efficacy improves. We can take skin cells from a diverse population of people and create whole lines of "ES cells" with genetic variability a lot easier than it would be to get such a diversity from the already approved lines and any new ones from new embryos.

However, a lot of the interest in stem cells is how cells go from a pluripotent to a differentiated state. Since we know very little about that, it remains beneficial to continue to study ES cells. The basic knowledge we gain from how these cells develop can be translated and transformed into other therapies.

Lastly, these discussions always return to ASCs. ASCs are a red herring. Either ESCR is immoral or it is not. It is true that in many ways ASCs are more useful in direct therapies, but again that is irrelevant. Even if ASCs were utterly useless, that wouldn't effect the morality of ESCR. Furthermore, the knowledge gleaned from ESCR will undoubtedly lead to therapies; it is less certain whether we will ever use them as direct therapies. But again, that is totally irrelevant. ASCs and ESCs are useful for both overlapping and non-overlapping reasons which makes neither one a substitute for the other. And again, even if it did, the usefulness of ASCs in no way alters the morality of ESCR.

Jason

Michael,

I agree completely with your above post.

So my next question is: is there a non-religious argument for why scientists should accept that it is morally wrong to destroy embryos for research purposes?

Just to focus things a bit more, suppose a scientist held the view that our moral responsibilities to an organism depend on its cognitive capacities in the following way: our moral responsibilities increase in proportion to its cognitive capacities up to a certain point, and after that point, any being meeting the minimal set of cognitive capacities is entitled to the full ensemble of rights that would be given to a month-old child. I have in mind something like the cognitive capacities that a fetus develops in the 7th or 8th month of pregnancy (I'll elaborate later).

What reason would someone have for rejecting this view in favor of the view that an embryo just after conception is entitled to the same rights as a baby just after birth? (a view which incidentally seems to imply many morally unintuitive judgments, like the idea that if a refrigerator with a few hundred thousand embryos were destroyed, this would be the moral equivalent of genocide).

Memphis Aggie

ASC are not a red herring, if your goal is therapy. They are irrelevant if your goal is research - then the reality matters. That said however in the real world the therapy goal is far more potent than the pure science research goal. Money flows to ESCR because of the potential for therapy. I try to make a pragmatic goal oriented arguments whenever possible because , in my experience moral arguments persuade only the faithful.

StubbleSpark

I have a question: Will we always be saved by the universe?

Call it Christian karma, but the universe created by our all-good God seems to reject certain unnatural aberrations the way an immune system rejects diseased cells. Peter Kreeft likes to point to the Tolkeinian dynamic in The Lord of the Rings and say that evil cannot be destroyed but it always defeats itself.

Granted there are times when a person must act in good conscience to fight the evil in the world, but thinking about this dynamic always tempts me to sit back and just watch for Evil's silly house of cards to come crashing down.

Now I am not stupid. I know this temptation to moral sloth is an evil temptation and in giving in to it, I am giving in to sin.

But I am also not stupid. I know what I know about the universe and I cannot forget it.

At the same time, it is easy to see that with step forward we take in the advancement of our potentialities, we also risk taking a greater fall by abusing our gifts. How high can we go? Is there a level of advancement that would lead us to a "Perfect Fall" wherein we would have no recourse to nature to save us?

I think you could say that the fallen angels may have experienced a fall of this nature. But they are supernatural, the same rules do not apply to them.

I dread the coming of the day when we will be so advanced that no appeal to nature will save us and we will have only our faith and sanctity to save us from ourselves.

Margaret

StubbleSpark-- I think I'm sort of on your wavelength. When I heard the news about this development, my first thought was, "Thank God-- we are once again saved from our own worst selves." Because, really, these kinds of deeds (i.e. ESCR) being committed as if we live in a moral vacuum, push humanity closer and closer to the edge of the cliff. I don't think we collectively have the moral good sense, anymore, to see the edge before we actually topple off. Individuals, small groups, yes, but not society as a whole...

A Non

There are far too many concerns here; it is still too close to Frankenstein, and we do not know really what moral questions can be raised with it (some have hinted, we can still be cloning with this kind of research and indeed, it could be the Trojan Horse to open the road to human cloning).

Jason
Call it Christian karma, but the universe created by our all-good God seems to reject certain unnatural aberrations the way an immune system rejects diseased cells. Peter Kreeft likes to point to the Tolkeinian dynamic in The Lord of the Rings and say that evil cannot be destroyed but it always defeats itself.

This is an interesting view, akin to Martin Luther King's view that, "The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends towards justice."

I tend to agree with that sentiment and I think it is one reason stem cell research is currently unstoppable. The benefits are too great and the costs too minimal to be halted by superstition - whether it is publicly funded or not, it will proceed and future generations will reap the rewards and look back with astonishment at those who tried to stop it.

This has happened many times before:

The dissection of bodies
The smallpox vaccine
The discovery of anaesthesia
Organ donation

The church vehemently opposed all of these as an affront to human dignity. They stopped complaining once tens of millions of lives were saved.

Jason
Call it Christian karma, but the universe created by our all-good God seems to reject certain unnatural aberrations the way an immune system rejects diseased cells. Peter Kreeft likes to point to the Tolkeinian dynamic in The Lord of the Rings and say that evil cannot be destroyed but it always defeats itself.

This is an interesting view, akin to Martin Luther King's view that, "The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends towards justice."

I tend to agree with that sentiment and I think it is one reason stem cell research is currently unstoppable. The benefits are too great and the costs too minimal to be halted by superstition - whether it is publicly funded or not, it will proceed and future generations will reap the rewards and look back with astonishment at those who tried to stop it.

This has happened many times before:

The dissection of bodies
The smallpox vaccine
The discovery of anaesthesia
Organ donation

The church vehemently opposed all of these as an affront to human dignity. They stopped complaining once tens of millions of lives were saved.

Michael

Memphis Aggie,

You misunderstand both the nature of science and the role that ESCR plays in therapy. No science happens in a vacuum and no therapies can exist without solid basic science research. Advances in ASC therapies have been enhanced by strides that have been made in basic research on both ASCs and ESCs. The public seems to not understand this. Just because a handful of specific diseases have been treated (with mixed results) does not mean that ASCs are better therapeutics than ESCs. Furthermore, the treatment goals are different for both. Clearly you want to treat a disease by donating your own ASCs because there will be no tissue rejection. But if you want to treat the disease with someone else's ASCs (say, because it's a genetic disorder and your ASCs have the same problem) then we still have to contend with massive immunosuppression to avoid rejection. ESCs are more promising in that regard. So, if you are truly making "pragmatic" arguments against ESCR, anyone who delves into the area or knows a sliver of how important basic science is to actual therapeutic goals, you will lose that argument.

is there a non-religious argument for why scientists should accept that it is morally wrong to destroy embryos for research purposes?

Jason,
Only if science can somehow define humanity. Biologists already take a very loose stance on what animal life they can tinker with. And most scientists are not malicious; it can be said that they are filled with hubris (and some are indeed quite power hungry), but the majority believe they will be saving lives and that that end is a noble end. Trying to persuade them otherwise would be very difficult.

On the other hand, while I find abortion morally repugnant, I have little problem with ESCR or the destruction of embryos. I see a very big difference between an embryo in a freezer and an embryo in a womb. The DNA in an embryo and the DNA in a skin cell are identical. There are extrinsic factors that manipulate that DNA that allows the former to develop into a person and the latter to remain a skin cell. The signals that allow the embryo to develop into a person come from the tissues in the womb; the signals that turn and keep the skin cell a skin cell come from the surrounding tissues. But theoretically we can turn your skin cell into a person, given the right kind of signals. To me, that the embryo is a lot closer to being a person than the skin cell doesn't matter. A person is or a person is not; a person is not a potential, however probable.

I think there is room for theologians to ponder these realities. As our understanding of biology changes, our understanding of life and death changes. The Church did not definitively place conception as the beginning of life/ensoulment since her own inception. Recent advances in epigentics and the importance of extrinsic factors in creating life may shift her definition again. From a biological standpoint, it is unclear that an embryo created outside of the maternal womb and an embryo created/implanted inside that maternal womb are the same thing.

Esquire

Jason,

Can you provide evidence that the Catholic Church opposed (vehemently, as you say) any of the following:

The dissection of bodies

The smallpox vaccine

The discovery of anaesthesia

organ donation

As to some of your other points, in no particular order:

The fact that life begins at conception is a not a "religious" idea, even if it is apparently easier for you to dismiss it as "superstition" if you characterize it in such a fashion.

Your proposal that only beings with sufficiently advanced "cognitive" powers have a reasonable expectation of being treated morally is entirely arbitrary and, at its root, both unscientific and inhumane.

The Church is not opposed to stem cell research. (I suspect you know this and were just being careless, but maybe not.)

Other than that, I'd say you were pretty much spot on.

Mark

Did you know that under the 1940 Bald Eagle Protection Act, unborn eagles are protected to the same degree as fully developed eagles? Must have been those religious fanatics again, using religious arguments to say the unborn should have the same rights as fully mature beings!

Memphis Aggie

"Your proposal that only beings with sufficiently advanced "cognitive" powers have a reasonable expectation of being treated morally is entirely arbitrary and, at its root, both unscientific and inhumane."
Amen Esquire

But let's be scientific for a while, suspend our moral sense, and try to define humanity with "cognitive powers". The tests of math skills, reading comprehension and logic can be defined well enough, although they do not capture worldly success, social skills etc. However you could devise a set of math functions, logic tests or real world functions that could, in a totalitarian state, be applied to all people.

Doubtless you would get a wide range of results.
Isn't is also plausible that you could then correlate those high IQ tests to genetic traits and discern in utero the potential of each person. So that abortions, are doubtless eliminating some of the finest minds. How many potential geniuses are lost in utero? What scientific discoveries are stunted or because of the great genius lost in utero.
If science is the highest order then how much has it suffered through the practice of abortion?

Now I'm not advocated this line of reasoning, that human worth should be measured by any means (that is morally bankrupt and leads to Eugenics). What I am saying is that abortions do undeniably deny society the benefit of the great gifts present in the unborn.

LarryD

"What I am saying is that abortions do undeniably deny society the benefit of the great gifts present in the unborn."

And the same is true for ESCR!

Esau

Can you provide evidence that the Catholic Church opposed (vehemently, as you say) any of the following:

The dissection of bodies
The smallpox vaccine

The discovery of anaesthesia

organ donation


Jason,

Could you please conduct a careful research into the matters you listed above prior to making such hasty and, not to mention, uninformed conclusions (yet again) about these?

Did you not know that the involved scientists in the above-identified matters were actually put down, quite ironically, by the GENERAL CONSENSUS of Scientists (the same CONSENSUS you hold so high & dear, need I mind you; that you proclaim time and again carrying the UTMOST AUTHORITY as well as possessing such INFALLIBILITY) at the time of these respective events?

For example, did you not know how the GENERAL CONSENSUS of scientists at the time ridiculed Jenner for his smallpox vaccine?

You do know how the Royal Society put him down in this regard, no? How his peers found it preposterous that purposely exposing healthy individuals to cowpox could actually make them immune to smallpox?

Memphis Aggie

Thanks for the clarification LarryD

Esau

The benefits are too great and the costs too minimal to be halted by superstition - whether it is publicly funded or not, it will proceed and future generations will reap the rewards and look back with astonishment at those who tried to stop it.


And yet it was the Catholic Church that prevented the decay of civilization during the medieval ages by founding the university system and, consequently, establishing several universities across Europe!

How it was in "Dark Age" Europe that the university system, a gift of Western civilization to the world, was developed by the Catholic Church under the patronage of the papacy!

Memphis Aggie

There are good moral objections to be made against the dissection of bodies, especially of those who did not donate their bodies to Science. Given the call to bury the dead as corporal act of mercy, I've wondered about this one. I expect that, under the condition that the body is used to help others, it can be seen as a final act of charity. However, I suspect that the preserved and posed bodies that toured Europe as "art" were over the line. Anyway that's off topic.

Just how official was the Catholic response? - you can generally find at least a few clergy to support or oppose any position. Did the objection come directly from Rome?

Also given that these subjects are off topic, they are irrelevant to the question at hand. It really does not matter what the Catholic Church did or didn't do concerning vaccines etc. This is simply misdirection, and evidence of a weak argument. We are talking about ESCR.

Esau

Also given that these subjects are off topic, they are irrelevant to the question at hand. It really does not matter what the Catholic Church did or didn't do concerning vaccines etc. This is simply misdirection, and evidence of a weak argument. We are talking about ESCR.


Memphis Aggie,

Thank-you for keeping us on track and noting the tactic just utilized by our friend here!


Just how official was the Catholic response? - you can generally find at least a few clergy to support or oppose any position. Did the objection come directly from Rome?

Very good point!

There are clergy that hold their own personal opinions (even in our age) -- but it does not mean these are declarations by the Holy See!

Further, it seems it did not occur to our friend that, for example, the clergy that may have been opposed at the time (e.g., Jenner) were members of the Church of England and NOT the Catholic Church!

Memphis Aggie

Nice points Esau

I'd like to add: the benefits are not "too great" they are entirely speculative. Likewise the costs are counted in human lives and the further erosion of our moral sense, nothing is greater. The term "superstition" is really insulting. The value of human life should be obvious to all independent of spiritual belief.

Esau

... the further erosion of our moral sense, nothing is greater...


Memphis Aggie,

This is a very nice point!

It reminds me of Aristotle's points on Moral Virtue -- the importance of that which constitute CHARACTER -- of putting things in the right order -- the habit of making RIGHT CHOICES in the proper pursuit of HAPPINESS!

Memphis Aggie

Have we chased off our only dissenter?

David B.

He'll be bach.


Embryos are human tissue. Those that are emplanted have all of the 46 chromosones which all humans have. They, by definition, are living and are human beings.

If you want to use cognitive ability to peg a human's worthiness of living, you should remember that drunks lose their cognitive abilities for a short time. Does that remove their humanity?

Some people say fetuses (little ones) are parasites. By the same token, children, who give 'nothing' but take much are also parasites. This leads down a dangerous and idiotic road.

Memphis Aggie

So by that "cognitive powers" standard if you kill a man while he's drunk it's not murder. Nicely points out the absurdity of the premise.

Esau

David B.,

Nice.

If you want to use cognitive ability to peg a human's worthiness of living, you should remember that drunks lose their cognitive abilities for a short time. Does that remove their humanity?


Well, how about those who are in coma?

Should we euthanize (better yet, exerminate) such individuals as they have lost all cognitive ability and, as a result, their humanity as defined by our friend here?

Jamie Beu

This is why it was so important that the U.S. *NOT* fund embryonic stem cell research.

This is why it was so important that Bush vetoed any funding to destroy embryos.

It forced scientists to look for other (non-destructive) means to reach the same goal. By forcing scientists to be more creative, we have essentially achieved the same ends by more ethical means, thereby proving that the ends do NOT justify the means.

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