December 16, 2006 | David F. Coppedge

Are Embryonic Stem Cells a Stepping Stone to Eugenics?

In Paris, according to Science Dec. 8, “One cherished French institution has attacked another in a bruising battle over embryonic stem cell research.”  The cause of the “Jeremiad” as Science dubbed it, was a Catholic Archbishop’s statement to a French health institute that any research “instrumentalizes the embryo or borders on eugenics.”  The “News of the week” piece by Martin Enserik called these “harsh words” but took encouragement at the end that people who “strictly follow the Church on moral issues” now form a “small minority in France.”
    Moral roadblocks against embryonic stem cell (ES) research are falling elsewhere as well.  The BBC News reported Dec. 6 that Australia just overturned a ban against human cloning for stem cell research by a vote of 82 to 62, despite the objections of the Prime Minister and Labor Leader who made “made impassioned speeches against repealing the ban.”  Prime Minister John Howard appealed to absolutes in his argument: “I think what we’re talking about here is a moral absolute and that is why I cannot support the legislation,” he said.  By contrast, Health Minister Kay Patterson who drafted the bill to repeal the ban appealed to a pragmatic argument.  She said, “This work’s being done in Sweden, England, the United States, in Japan… I didn’t see how we could accept any treatment derived from this in the future if we didn’t allow the research here in Australia.”  She thought the legislation “could be made more liberal” in the future.
    Meanwhile, medical progress using adult stem cells continues.  EurekAlert reported Dec. 14 that scientists are learning more about how adult stem cells maintain their “stemness” or ability to diversify into many different types of cells.  The microenvironment creates a “niche” in which they thrive.
    Earlier, on Nov. 30, EurekAlert reported a dramatic breakthrough using adult stem cells.  “A University of Manchester researcher has developed a treatment for lower back pain using the patient’s own stem cells.”  This new treatment for a very common ailment “could replace the use of strong painkillers or surgery that can cause debilitation, neither of which addresses the underlying cause.”  Instead of just alleviating the symptoms or trying to rig a fix by fusing vertebrae, this new treatment actually rebuilds the damaged tissue with mesenchymal stem cells extracted from bone marrow.  With only a very small incision, the surgeon implants a naturally occurring collagen gel suffused with the stem cells that goes to work on the damaged tissue.  After the arthroscopic implantation, the patient can leave the same day or the next day.  Dr. Stephen Richardson of the University of Manchester won the Nature award for Northwest Young Biotechnologist of the Year for this technique.  Pre-clinical trials may begin in 2007, and “It is expected to rapidly yield a marketable product which will revolutionise treatment of long-term low back pain.”  The article was titled, “One-off treatment to stop back pain — using patients’ own stem cells.
    In another news story, EurekAlert reported that the brain contains stem cells with the capacity for self-repair.  The finding came as a “big surprise,” the article said; “It was not known that the brain has this kind of ability to repair itself.”  This insight “might ultimately have clinical implications for the treatment of brain damage, according to the researchers.”  The discovery adds to findings that stem cells are found throughout the body, not just in embryos.
    The use of adult stem cells carries with it no ethical qualms.  No human embryo is grown only for harvesting its cells.  Nobody has a problem with adult stem cells, and those are already in use for a wide variety of treatments.  So far, embryonic stem cells provide nothing but hope, hype, and empty promises.

1Martin Enserek, “News of the Week, Stem Cell Research: A Season of Generosity … and Jeremiads,” Science, 8 December 2006: Vol. 314. no. 5805, p. 1525, DOI: 10.1126/science.314.5805.1525a.

The incorrigible Big Science pragmatists see only riches and fame for themselves in the promise of ES gold.  It matters little to them that adult stem cells are working medical marvels right now.  It matters less to them how immoral it is to create a human life only to harvest its parts.  Moral absolutes?  Bosh; those are forgotten notions from Christian days when people believed Truth and Morals didn’t evolve like everything else.
    Moral barriers are falling fast in the stampede to be first.  The relativists add insult to injury by turning the blame onto those with ethical concerns.  They accuse them of using “harsh words” when bringing up the E word eugenics.  The criticism assumes a moral standard of harshness.  Such hypocrisy warns us that the pro-ES crowd has abandoned all consistency and morality in the rush for ES research.  They laugh all the way to the bank that only a small minority in France follow the Church on moral issues these days.  Ten thousand amoral Frenchmen, of course, could never be wrong.

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