September 3, 2004 | David F. Coppedge

Letter: The Case Against Embryonic Stem Cell Research

Sometimes the letters to the editor are the most interesting parts of a magazine.  Read what John T. Durkin says about embryonic stem cell research in response to an April letter by another scientist:

In his Letter “Human being redux” (16 April, p. 388),2 M. S. Gazzaniga constructs his defense of human embryonic stem cell research around his difficulty in thinking of a “miniscule ball of cells in a petri dish, so small that it could rest on the head of a pin” as a human being.  This rhetoric may mislead the lay public, but scientists should recognize that the size or the developmental stage does not separate the embryo from the human being.  The embryo and the adult are different stages in the development of the human being.
    The embryo possesses more than just “the genetic material for a future human being.”  In ways that we do not yet fully understand, the embryo is organized so that it is capable of executing a developmental program and growing into what Gazzaniga will admit is a human being.  This capability distinguishes the embryo from a differentiated cell in culture.  Gazzaniga suggests that, because an embryo that is not implanted in the uterus of a woman will not be able to execute this program, the embryo has no moral status.  I think he has it backwards.  The scientist who destroys an embryo to harvest stem cells commits a wrong, for the scientist has denied that embryo the opportunity to grow into an adult.
    My moral objections to human embryonic stem cell research are not assuaged by severing its connection to reproductive cloning.  In my judgment, the developmental events leading from fertilized ovum, to blastula, to embryo, to fetus, to fully formed adult constitute a continuum.  It is artificial, and even self-serving, to declare the embryo “not yet human” before some point, and to declare that we may do with that embryo as we will.
  (Emphasis added in all quotes.)


1John T. Durkin, “The Case Against Stem Cell Research” (letter to the editor), Science, Vol 305, Issue 5689, 1402 ,3 September 2004, [DOI: 10.1126/science.305.5689.1402a].
2Michael S. Gazzaniga, “Stem Cell Redux,” Science, Vol 304, Issue 5669, 388-389 , 16 April 2004, [DOI: 10.1126/science.304.5669.388c].

Never underestimate the power of a well-written, cogently argued letter.  Have you tried it?  Be polite, but take a stand boldly and confidently.

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Categories: Politics and Ethics

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