First off, an absolutely hilarious comment was added to my previous post (I added the word "absolutely" because I wasn't sure if "hilarious" should be preceded by "a" or "an". Can anyone help me out on that one?). It was all about how much money can be made on non embryonic stem cells. I think. It smacked of being written by a bot, or at least someone who flunked out of English. Anyway, it just solidified my view that this is really all about the money.
Also solidifying that view? Just about every article I've read since has at least mentioned the fact that on Obama's reversal of the policy shares of embryonic stem cell companies skyrocketed. Now that's to be expected of course, but it's really effective proof that there are just companies out there waiting to sell their product for federal money, and that we aren't really talking about advances in science here.
One of the parallels I've been thinking about with embryonic stem cells is steak. Yup, steak. If there were a way for us to get steak without killing a cow, I think we'd probably all agree that it would be better to use that method, and spare the cow's life. Can we all agree on that? I mean, sure, it's just a cow. It's not as important as a person. It doesn't (and shouldn't) have rights. But all things being equal, it's a living being and that life has some value, right? So living-cow steak would be preferable to dead-cow steak.
The same is true with stem cells. Right now you've got your non-embryonic stem cells and your embryonic stem cells. Embryonic stem cells require destroying the being to harvest the stem cells. Non-embryonic don't require any destruction. Embryonic are dead-cow steak, and non-embryonic are living-cow steak.
I know there are disputes about the value of an embryo, but two points need to be made. First, we're talking about a being that, if given the opportunity, would grow into a fully functioning unique individual human being. Certainly that's more valuable that a cow, right? Second, even if it isn't more valuable than a cow, wouldn't non-embryonic be preferable? I mean, it doesn't require destroying embryos. How is that not a no-brainer?
One of the issues that came up a lot in my bioethics courses was Nazi medical experiments. A lot of "research" was done in concentration camps using involuntary human subjects that were essentially tortured to death "in the name of science". Truly repugnant stuff. In the process a lot was learned about people's tolerances to pain, what happens when they're subjected to certain situations, etc. After the war there was a big question whether or not we should even use this information, because it was so tainted. The question - thankfully - was largely answered that the information should be thrown out. It was simply wrong to use what the Nazi doctors had discovered because of their methods.
This situation is often used as a parallel in the embryonic stem cell debate. Now, as horrible as the destruction of embryos is, I don't think it's anywhere near as bad as what the Nazi's did. Not even close. But that doesn't mean the parallel itself doesn't have value. Because the question is the same: how much of a bad thing will we tolerate to get this good thing? If embryonic stem cells are a good thing, how much bad are we willing to accept to get them? What if instead of embryos it required us to kill infants? What about post-viability fetuses? What if we had to destroy billions of embryos to get just a little useful stem cell material? Where would we draw that line?
I wonder how many people have thought about this issue in these terms?
Finally, one of the points that may be getting overlooked in the reversal on embryonic stem cells is that there are steps we can take to make using them less morally repugnant. After all, things can be more and less wrong.
First, it's important to acknowledge the moral imperative in trying to save lives. This is a point that's repeated quite often by supporters of embryonic stem cell use. Of course, they aren't the only ones who want to save lives, because people on both sides of the issue want cures to be discovered as a result of this research. I'll quote just one of the articles I read:
[Supporters of embryonic stem cells] "cannot claim a monopoly on being the Good Samaritan" by saying '[they] support embryonic stem cell research in order to help alleviate human suffering. Does that mean those who oppose embryonic stem cell research want to prolong human suffering?"
I think that makes the point pretty well. Still, it is important to note that good work is being done towards finding cures.
Second, it's important that stem cells only be culled from embryos that were slated for destruction anyway. After all, it's better to put to use the embryos that are already being destroyed than to create new ones just for the purpose of destroying them.
Third, we need to make sure that the parents' whose embryos are being used have given full informed consent, and that it is in no way coerced. Because we're talking about a big money issue here there's a very good chance that people would start selling embryos, or, even more disturbing, that doctors would start encouraging people to make more embryos than they'd need (for reproductive purposes mostly), and then would turn around and sell those extra embryos. This is not unfathomable. In fact, it's almost guaranteed. Just think Octo-mom.
Fourth, researchers should only be using embryonic stem cells when they can show that they need to be using them (as opposed to non-embryonic). Mind you, given the advances in the versatility of non-embryonic, this might be kind of hard to do. But that's just further evidence that we don't need embryonic stem cells.
Finally, we should continue to work to make non-embryonic stem cells more easily available and more obviously versatile, so that they can always be used instead of embryonic. Scientists shouldn't just be complacent and use embryonic now that Obama says they can. We should continue to strive for ethically superior option.
These steps will hopefully keep us on the right track. Because we're not looking at a done deal here. We can keep working our way to a better and better position - both ethically and scientifically.
Climb up to the roof so we can check out the view
I think somebody spoke but I didn't have a clue