The Stink Behind Congress' New Embryonic Stem Cell Legislation

I enjoy listening to Glen Beck, and a couple of days ago he made a powerful point by being absurd. As Layman reported here, new research shows that stem cells can be found in amniotic stem cell fluid that, on the basis of this early research, appear to have all of the same qualities as embryonic stem cells (in fact, since embryonic stem cell research has often resulted in negative consequences, it may be that the amniotic stem cells are superior to the embryonic stem cells on that basis alone) without the morally troubling aspect that a human embryo must be destroyed to obtain them. Glen asked the "evil conservatives" if they planned on barring any funding of amniotic stem cell research because their real motivation was to see people suffering from diseases continue to suffer.

Of course, no one who called into the program in response had any objection to the stem cell research using amniotic stem cells (which is consistent with their lack of objection to using adult stem cells). After all, despite attempts by people supporting research on embryonic stem cells (ESCs) to make it look like "religious conservatives" who are quite obviously uncaring about sick and dying people, the problem isn't that "religious conservatives" are wanting to stand in the way of finding treatments for many diseases. Rather, the problem is, and has been, that the embryo being destroyed to obtain ESCs is a human being. As stated by Stand to Reason's founder, Gregory Koukl, in an article available on entitled The Confusing Moral Logic of ESCR:

The moral logic pertaining to any pre-born human life can be stated simply. It’s wrong to kill innocent human beings. Both abortion and ESCR kill innocent human beings. Therefore, both abortion and ESCR are wrong. Pro-lifers, presumably, affirm this moral equation. Pro-choicers, by and large, deny it because of the second premise. To them, no bona fide human being is sacrificed, just a “blob of cells.” (That everyone is just a blob of cells seems to have escaped their notice).

Only one question needs to be answered to resolve what many think is a complex moral problem. That question is, “What is it?” Both abortion and ESCR kill something that is alive. In fact, both destroy the same thing at different stages of development. Whether it’s right or not to take that life depends entirely on what it is we’re killing.

Let me put it as clearly as I know how. If the zygote or embryo or fetus is not a human being, then no justification for either abortion or ESCR is necessary. Use it or abuse it as you please. However, if the unborn is a human being, no justification for taking her life is adequate.

Here’s why. We do not justify harming any other human beings for the reasons people routinely give for abortion. And we don’t carve up innocent human beings on the hope that it might benefit someone else who is sick.

The pro-life view stands or falls on this moral equation. So does the pro-choice view, it seems to me, which makes the conduct of many on both sides confusing.

For those of us who accept this argument and believe that the people supporting ESC research are killing an innocent human being when they destroy the embryo to obtain its stem cells, the logic is clear. We understand that there are reasons to believe that ESC research might -- maybe, possibility -- result in some types of treatments for spinal cord injuries (ala, Christopher Reeve) or Parkinson's Disease (ala, Michael J. Fox) or Alzheimer's Disease (ala, Nancy Reagan's views about President Reagan) or any number of other diseases, but we have a very difficult time supporting the killing of another human being to do so.

By analogy, there are people out there who suffer from kidney or liver diseases where there lives could be saved or improved by a kidney or liver transplant. Of course, that doesn't give anyone the right to go out and kill another person to remove their liver or kidney for that transplant. We don't allow our compassion for the suffering of one person to allow the killing of another to ease that suffering. The ends don't always justify the means -- especially when the means involves the death of another human being.

Of course, as Mr. Koukl's argument makes clear, the people who support ESC research do so either because they don't understand the argument as to why the embryo is a human being or they reject it. But regardless of such rejection, it is clear that millions of people in this country understand and agree that these embryos are human beings, and they have serious moral difficulties with ESC research because of the way the ESCs are obtained.

Now, with the new research that shows that stem cells from amniotic fluid may be obtainable that will likely serve virtually the same function, why does the Congress choose now to push forward with legislation to try to allow new funding of ESC research? An unattributed editorial in the INS News entitled Moving Ahead on Stem Cells gives at least one argument supporting pushing ahead as quickly as possible despite this latest discovery:

An alternative approach that attracted wide attention this week was described by scientists at the Wake Forest University School of Medicine. They extracted stem cells from the amniotic fluid of pregnant women and used them to create muscle, bone, fat, blood vessel, nerve and liver cells. These stem cells, spun off by the developing fetus, seem to have some - though quite probably not all - of the versatility that allows embryonic stem cells to grow into a wide range of body tissues. It would be a mistake to use this promising research, which has yet to be replicated or fully accepted by other scientists, as another excuse for hobbling embryonic stem cell research. The days-old embryonic cells are likely more versatile than fetal cells extracted months later from amniotic fluid, and they allow a range of research on the very earliest stages of human development.

Stem cell research holds enormous promise, though top researchers say it could take a decade or more to develop useful therapies from it. At this point, it is important to explore all approaches: using "adult" stem cells, which can grow into a very limited range of body tissues; the cells found in amniotic fluid, which may yield a broader range of tissues; and the most versatile cells of all, those derived from early human embryos.

Note the uncertainty involved: the amniotic stem cells "seem to have some -- though quite probably not all -- of the versatility" of ESCs; "It would be a mistake to use such promising research, which has yet to be replicated"; "The days-old embryonic cells are likely more verastile". In other words, the argument being made is that we shouldn't delay on federal funding for ESC research because we're uncertain about the extent of the versatility of the amniotic stem cells. But at the same time, there is no certainty that ESCs are more versatile or that they will live up to expectations. In other words, we don't really know how effective either treatment can or will be, so let's forge ahead with the morally objectionable one without getting an answer to whether it will be as effective.

Given the risk that we are killing an innocent human being through ESC research, isn't it worth a short wait to see if the amniotic stem cells can serve as useful substitutes without the obvious moral dilemmas? I think it is.

I don't agree with the effort by the new Congress to rush this new legislation through in light of the new discoveries that have been made that have located stem cells in amniotic fluid (and elsewhere) that can often serve the same functions. With all due respect, it stinks of payback for political support to the special interest groups who supported their elections. I think that it is unthinking and unwarranted, and I will certainly express my disagreement with all those who support this action when the next election cycle comes around.


Layman said…
It really seems like many on the pro side of the embryonic stem cell debate seem more concerned about ensuring that a medical procedure that kills human life is funded by the government than with actual medical progress.

Notice how they speak of very promising stem cell research as questionable and of questionable value, while speaking of so-far unproven embryonic stem cell research as gauranteeing medical miracles. Why is one of questionable value and the other a sure bet? The only difference I see is that once involves the killing of human life and, in their opinion, may tip the scales in the abortion debates.

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