So I got into it with a conservative on the message boards today about the use of embryonic stem cells in medical research. The conservative was of the view that the research was not only unethical but unnecessary as well. He said that there were more viable applications for adult stem cell research (ASCR) than there were for embryonic stem cell research (ESCR). He was right but for the wrong reasons.
I’ll provide some background on the controversy. ASC can be culled from an adult host without any harm. ESC can be harvested from embryos as their name suggests. Harvesting ESC from embryos destroys the embryo. Naturally ESCR has come under fire from anti-abortion advocates as they argue that these embryos, like the fetus are potential human beings and should be afforded the same rights as any human being. The reason ESC are sought after is because, unlike ASC, they have the capacity to differentiate into any and all tissue types. ASC are limited to a few different tissue types.
What the conservative failed to take into account when commenting on the apparent uselessness of ESCR is the fact that when Bush Jr. clamped down on research in 2001, he restricted an entire nation of scientists to only ten stem cell lines. The official political number was 60 cell lines, but in reality many of those cell lines were contaminated with animal cells (the use of mouse feeder cells to keep the stem cells going for example) and not appropriate for human research. Average wait times for access to the NIH maintained stem cells was 6-9 months. No wonder the research was at a standstill. So for the last 4 years a stem cell scientist had one of two options, wait patiently for the NIH to get back to him, or privately fund his own stem cell line (which was not prohibited). A third option has become available and more and more American scientists are taking advantage of it and that is to leave the country altogether and go to a country that has less or no restrictions. Some of the recent big breakthroughs for example have come from South Korea.
The folly of this sad tale is that the pro-birth regiments have politicized this science and would rather see people suffer and die than allow the march of progress. Scientists aren’t advocating that we rip the stem cells from young pregnant mother’s wombs, because if they were I would say HELL NO! I’m against that! But no, the scientists are just asking to allow people the choice of donating their extra embryos left over from IVF, embryos that will eventually have to be destroyed anyway (unless a bunch of pro-birth women are willing to line up and offer up their uteri).
The pro-birthers are dogged in their belief that an embryo is a person. Let time I checked an embryo has the potential to be a person, but we don’t grant rights to “virtual” people, or “almost” people. A clump of cells that have neither nerves, nor neurons doesn’t really qualify. Arguing on behalf of a fetus in the 2nd trimester I could see (if not necessarily agree with), but 100 cells? I shed more than a 100 cells each time I take a crap.