Wednesday, February 21, 2007

"It's just a lump of cells..."

The Iowa House is now debating HF 287 - "the stem cell research and initiatives" bill. This is the House version of SF 115 (now SF 162), which I blogged on, that narrowly passed through the Iowa Senate 26-24.

I have contacted my Representative Kevin McCarthy, as well as various House leadership. Speaker Pat Murphy (pictured on the left), e-mailed me back:

"I appreciate you contacting me on this important issue. I'm sorry we cannot agree on this. I know I'm no expert, but I'm told by top scientists at the University of Iowa that somatic cell nuclear transfer, which is what this legislation would permit, authorizes the creation of embryonic stem cell lines, which are not even close to actual embryos. There is no sperm involved in somatic cell nuclear transfer, so there can be no embryo. These scientists say that these new stem cell lines are much better (than adult cell lines) for determining potential cures for diseases such as Parkinson's, juvenile diabetes, cancer, spinal cord injuries, and other diseases. They say that we are perhaps five to ten years from major breakthroughs. If there is credible hope that we can find cures for any of these diseases, then I believe we can greatly reduce human suffering that has touched my family and which touches many families."

Let me pick this apart a little. "creation of embryonic stem cell lines, which are not even close to actual embryos," he is making a distinction between two types of cloning - one that uses a fertilized egg, called artificial embryo twining which is essentially trying to duplicate the same process that occurs with identical twins when the zygote splits, albeit in a petri dish.

The University of Utah's Genetic Science Learning Center's Website has an article,
"What is cloning". It does a better job describing this process than I ever could:

"Somatic cell nuclear transfer, (SCNT) uses a different approach than artificial embryo twinning, but it produces the same result: an exact clone, or genetic copy, of an individual. This was the method used to create Dolly the Sheep.

What does SCNT mean? Let's take it apart:

Somatic cell: A somatic cell is any cell in the body other than the two types of reproductive cells, sperm and egg. These are also called germ cells. In mammals, every somatic cell has two complete sets of chromosomes, whereas the germ cells only have one complete set.

Nuclear: The nucleus is like the cell's brain. It's an enclosed compartment that contains all the information that cells need to form an organism. This information comes in the form of DNA. It's the differences in our DNA that make each of us unique.

Transfer: Moving an object from one place to another.

To make Dolly, researchers isolated a somatic cell from an adult female sheep. Next, they transferred the nucleus from that cell to an egg cell from which the nucleus had been removed. After a couple of chemical tweaks, the egg cell, with its new nucleus, was behaving just like a freshly fertilized zygote. It developed into an embryo, which was implanted into a surrogate mother and carried to term.

The lamb, Dolly, was an exact genetic replica of the adult female sheep that donated the somatic cell nucleus to the egg. She was the first-ever mammal to be cloned from an adult somatic cell."

So to respond to Speaker Murphy this process does create embryoes. He goes on to mention that embyonic stem cells are said to be better than adult stem cells in determining cures for diseases for Parkinson's, ALS, Huntington's, Diabetes, etc. There is no conclusive proof as Maureen Condie of First Things: A Journal of Religion, Culture & Public Life points out in a recent article that embryonic stem cells will work at all. You can also see what advances adult stem cell research has made compared to embryonic stem cell research.

He also makes mention of human suffering, and various family members who could benefit. Tonight I attended a public forum in the House chambers with various families & individuals who were suffering from the affects of various diseases. All hailing the hope that ESCR will produce in providing a cure. All lamenting the suffering they go through, one even asking how we can place "a lump of five cells in a petri dish" in higher regard than her child.

That begs another question that is the fundamental one in this debate - what consitutes a human being? Greg Koukl provides the ground work to answer that question in "Embryonic Stem Cell Research: Means and Ends":
"There has been an attempt to obfuscate (confuse) the issue morally, an attempt to draw a distinction between a blastula (the earliest stages of human development) and the later stages, as if in the first case you don’t have human beings and in the second you do. People will say that is not a human being, that is just an embryo or that is just a blastula. You know, when you think about it, friends, there are many, many kinds of embryos. Embryo is not a thing — it is a stage. It is like saying a ten-day-old, or an adolescent, or a youngster. It does not tell you anything about the thing except for its level of development. It could be a young dog, or it could be a young parakeet, or it could be a young human being. It could be a fish embryo, it could be a dog embryo, it could be a human embryo. You see, embryo, or blastula, or blastocyst are just terms to describe this earliest stages of development where stem cells are present; these are just words that identify a stage of the development of a thing. It does not give you any information as to what that thing is that is developing.

To say that an embryo goes from an embryo after a certain level of development into a human being is to create a kind of category error, it is mixing terms. It is kind of like saying this thing went from a ten-day-old to a young rabbit. A ten-day-old what? Well, a ten-day-old baby rabbit into a young rabbit. These are terms that represent two different categories of things. To be clear about these things, we have to acknowledge that distinction. So when we say embryo, we are talking about a stage of development, we are not talking about the thing.

The question is what kind of embryo is it? And in this case the embryos are human embryos, the blastula are human blastula. You have to have a human being before you can get human stem cells. So, this discussion about the legitimacy of cloning for the stem cells versus cloning to create a human being, is a rationally confused distinction. There is no difference. You cannot get human embryonic stem cells but from a human embryo. So, you must create a human being first in its embryo stage, which then is either allowed to grow into subsequent stages, fetus, newborn, adolescent, etc., or is destroyed before it can begin to develop into other stages and is then cut up an used for body parts. But it still is what it is when it is destroyed — a human being in a blastula stage."
We all want to see "good ends". However not at the expense of an innocent human being at any stage of development.

1 comment:

Kaylee said...

I appreciate the fact that you voiced your opposition. I also spoke at the public hearing. SCNT is destroying human lives. You couldn't help but feel for those people who spoke about their diseases, and I do want them to find a cure, however, not at the cost of babies. Adult and umbilical stem cells have found to be beneficial. Fund the money into a program that doesn't destroy lives in the process.