Thursday, March 16, 2006

IVF Stem Cells: Why do some people oppose research?

` The fact that an injection of stem cells into an early-stage Alzheimer's patient can completely reverse the symptoms is quite an amazing thing to ponder and to behold. To think that someday, Alzheimer's patients will no longer necessarily have to face the degeneration of mind, erosion of personality, and the possibility that even the wisest elder could degrade into a squalling, infantile vegetable within his or her lifetime!
` You know, the kinds of things that can make flat-out death actually sound more inviting.

` Some people I know scorn stem cell injections because it's 'unnatural', saying that they'd rather lose their minds to Alzheimer's (or even die of cancer!) than be treated by Western medicine.
` A more conspicuous argument, however, has to do with the idea of extracting stem cells from microscopic, hollow spheres of about a hundred cells known as blastocysts, which are artificially created within in-vitro fertilization clinics.
` Of course, these spheres I speak of are early embryos, modules of building material that - if implanted successfully - have the potential to launch a sequence that allows each one to form into a human being, perhaps even twins (if split in half) or triplets (if split into three)!

` (What I'm saying here is that one embryo definitely does not equal one person. Or two, or three. But it may well, after a long process.)

` The general opposition to this harvesting of stem cells has been summed up quite lyrically by one Kevin B. Keating:

A stem cell's a miracle, you see,
It could extend the life of you - or me.
Only week-old embryos are needed for stems,
The problem is - we were once them.

` True, we were once blastocysts - though this argument is misleading: It does not shed any light on exactly which embryos are actually used for stem cell research!
` In fact, the embryos that are shipped to stem cell laboratories are only there because they are not wanted for implantation! Because not all IVF embryos can be used in any case, these 'leftovers' would otherwise be headed into an incinerator!
` In other words, non-usable embryos, having been considered to be medical waste, would all be burned if it were not for scientific interest! So, what harm is it to at least rescue a valuable part of them before they are destroyed?

` Hence, the reply poem by Scientific American Editor-in-Chief, John Rennie:

IVF embryos have potential for life,
But when destined to end from a cold dish's strife,
Why not harvest their stem cells for future folk's good?
It's a waste and a sin if we don't when we could.

` I mean, what are scientists supposed to do with the unwanted embryos? Kidnap women and use their bodies as growing facilities? I mean, extremist efforts to give each embryo a chance are not working out that well as it is.
` Also, because a higher percentage of IVF embryos are defective (compared to in-vivo fertilization), many of them wouldn't make it anyway. This is why several of them have to be implanted in the same attempt - only one is likely to take.
` In reality, most of these little spheres - far from resembling a baby with working organs - haven't got a chance at this stage. So, why grow them? After all, pregnancy is a huge undertaking! Why not choose the ones most likely to develop properly over ones that will probably or definitely amount to nothing but trouble and wasted effort? (And, perhaps, a grotesquely deformed child?)
` On top of that, many viable embryos inevitably are not used if, for example, earlier attempts at pregnancy turned out to be satisfactory.

` Mainly, then, there are two realistic choices:

` 1: The stem cells of leftover embryos could be cultured in the promising hope of curing the currently incurable; diabetics may no longer live in fear of nerve damage or insulin shock, and it is even very probable that many quadruplegics will someday have the ability to once again feel and move their entire bodies!

` 2: These same reproductively useless embryos could also amount to a pile of microscopic ashes. (And usually, this is the case, as IVF is common and scientific donations of leftovers are rare.)

` I'll also mention here that, though certain types of stem cell can be captured from, say, adults, artificially-created embryos are still currently the most promising way to go (and they may always be!).
` In this light, I hope that anyone who disagrees with me can see where I am coming from in this matter: Some people like to call IVF stem cell researchers 'baby killers', trying to get more people on their side by saying, for example, that the stem cells are taken from aborted fetuses!
` I can only say that lack of education can make someone susceptible to believing such lies, especially if that person is driven by some sort of fanatacism, religious or otherwise.

` In conclusion, IVF stem cell research is most certainly not the 'Culture of Death' that millions have claimed it to be - starting with the most powerful man in the world (who has used this view in an attempt to gain popularity): If anything, it is the extraction of life and regeneration from the failed and the doomed.


Galtron said...

I wonder how many souls the funda-mental-ists think each embryo has if it can split into more than one fetus?

S E E Quine said...

` I'd be willing to bet your typical answer would be a 'God works in mysterious ways' type of one.

Aaron said...

I believe I understand the argument against embryonic stem cell research.

The main problem people have with it is that these blastocysts are created for the express purpose of research. Religious people believe that scientists are conceiving people just to murder them for research. Technically, it's true.

It is sort of a morbid procedure. These cellular bodies most definitely have the potential to be human beings.

I have heard that nothing has ever come from embryonic stem cell research, but much has been gained from adult stem cell research. I have also heard that we have a virtually unlimited supply of stem cells procured from discarded umbilical cords, and that's there's no reason for producing more embryonic lines - being that there are already dozens in use today.

I'm not a god person, and I don't believe that every human cell is sacred, but I have to respect the opinion of the majority of people in this country.

If something were to actually come from embryonic stem cell research, I would definitely change my opinion.

S E E Quine said...

` I admit I'm out of the loop as far as stem cell news goes. I must remember to check in on stem cell news from time to time!

` I was under the impression that the blastocysts used (so far) were merely discarded embryos that were originally intended for reproductive purposes, though I could be wrong.
` However, you are correct in that embryonic stem cells have not been 'proven' yet. The reason for this is that research has only begun in 2001, whereas adult stem cell treatment has been going on since the 1960's.
` At the same time, embryonic stem cells may have much more potential than adult ones, as they are known to have the ability to turn into any cell type (they are 'pluripotent') whereas adult and umbilical cord stem cells are apparently not.

` There are also not nearly as many embryonic stem cell lineages as have been reported by detractors of the research - and these are not enough to continue most medical studies.