Jun 08

"Non-Controversial Human Embryonic Stem Cells…And a Bridge in Brooklyn"

Well well, what have we here, a
Washington Post article on possible non-controversial human embryonic
stem cell
(hESC) sources
. Let’s see what they are:

Approach One–You Really Don’t Need That Cell, Right?

“In one approach pioneered by
Robert Lanza
and colleagues at Advanced Cell Technology in Worcester, Mass.,
researchers pluck
single cells from eight-cell embryos — embryos so young they do not
have stem cells

Fertility doctors have known for years that early embryos seem
unfazed by the removal
of any one of their eight virtually identical cells, called
blastomeres. In fact,
it is common today to remove a single, representative blastomere from
a laboratory-conceived
embryo and test that cell for disease genes before deciding whether
to transfer
that embryo into a woman’s womb.”

Well, you aren’t killing ’em, but if you consider embryos persons,
removing a chunk
of mass from them without a by-your-leave is not very neighborly.
Sure, they can
regrow, but it still strikes me as ghoulish, and if we let ourselves
do this, how
do we guarantee that we can prevent other actions on embryos?
Moreover, this has
to be done by IVF, whose ethical concerns are being discussed
elsewhere on this blog

Approach Two–Let’s Get Together

“Other researchers are
experimenting with
variations on a second approach. Chad Cowan and co-workers at Harvard
for example, use chemicals to get an adult human skin cell to fuse
with a human
embryonic stem cell. The two cells become one with shared cellular
contents, including
two full batches of genes.

Experiments indicate that something in the stem cell “reprograms” the
skin cell’s
genes, putting the hybrid cell into an embryonic state. The team is
now developing
ways to remove the original stem cell’s DNA after reprogramming is
complete. What
will be left is an embryo-like cell that can be made to grow into all
kinds of tissues
— all of which will be genetically matched to the person who donated
the original
skin cell.”

The Post notes that a few research groups are working on this
approach. For this
to work, you need a preexisting hESC. Unless Santa Claus can give us
these for Christmas,
methinks you still need to kill an embryo to get starter hESCs. Back
to square one.

So this really doesn’t get out of the basic ethical debates, as eager
as the journalist
is to suggest that they do, though these approaches may well change
the technical
issues behind embryonic stem cell research and suggest new applications.

As a bonus for y’all, here is a great rhetorical specimen from the
Post article–what
would I do without journalists?

In the beginning paragraph, we have:

“If only human
embryonic stem cells could sprout anew from something other than a
human embryo.
Researchers could harvest them and perhaps harness their great
biomedical potential
without destroying what some consider to be a budding human life.”

Well, if it isn’t a “budding human life”, where did we all come from,
the stork? Why is the
pro-life position on embryos called “religious” (sneer when you say
that), when we say that
an human’s life and identity are continuous from conception onward,
whereas this limp journalistic
rhetoric somehow gets a free pass?

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