17 October 2005

It's not an ethical debate

More evidence that the two sides in the culture war aren't communicating. San Francisco Chronicle:

Scientists are reporting two new ways of creating embryonic stem cells without killing viable embryos[...]

In one case, embryonic stem cells were made from a genetically abnormal embryo designed to be incapable of developing. The other method was an attempt to fashion stem cells from an embryo without damaging it.

I'm not sure what this is supposed to fix. The objection is that experimenting on human embryos is an affront to their dignity. Essentially everything having to do with human embryos is off-limits by this standard, including creating them for scientific research.

The opponents of stem cell research are the same people that opposed in vitro fertilization. The only thing to do is wait.

3 comments:

Helen said...

The opponents of stem cell research are the same people that opposed in vitro fertilization.

That is true but there's also a fair amount of people who oppose stem cell research but are for in-vitro fertilization. I know several people who hold that view. For that matter, there are Christian denominations which oppose stem cell research but do not oppose IVF, one of them being the Southern Baptist Convention. The critical debate amongst the "religious right" is that if a couple decides to use IVF, all embryos must be used and carried to term. As more and more couples have opted to carry all fertilized embryos to term, it has become an accepted process amongst those who opposed it previously.

While I agree with you that this is basically just sugar-coating embryonic research, the more mainstream of those against stem-cell research will consider this a victory. Many people do not understand the technical aspects of stem cell research and all they will see is that the embryos aren't being killed. Certainly the more radical opponents will oppose any tampering with "God's will" but these are often the same people who also oppose birth control as well, and this has moved into being accepted by the mainstream.

jto said...

That is true but there's also a fair amount of people who oppose stem cell research but are for in-vitro fertilization.

This is the reason I used opposed in the past tense.

Sure, now that it's been around for twenty-odd years, and it's clear that it does exactly what its proponents at the time of the controversy said it would do (help infertile couples have babies), in vitro fertilization is generally accepted.

But IVF was initially very controversial. The institutions that initially opposed it then are the same ones that oppose stem cell research now. A lot of the public figures are the same, their motives are the same, the arguments are exactly the same, they're wrong for the same reasons, and as far as I can tell, the debate will follow the same cultural trajectory. In thirty years, when we're all buying miracle drugs made possible by stem cell research (from European pharma giants, I guess, not American ones), it'll be a curious historical oddity that the research was at first so controversial.

jto said...

Many people do not understand the technical aspects of stem cell research and all they will see is that the embryos aren't being killed.

You may be right about this, it's hard for me to tell. I don't understand any of the technical aspects myself, but if obtaining stem cells can be seen as "taking a sample from" an embryo, that will make a difference for some people.

The SBC's stance only specifically rejects research that requires embryos to be destroyed.

But the same statement gives ten reasons for their opposition, and really only one of them applies exclusively to research that destroys embryos, as opposed to research that uses them in other ways.