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    Friday, May 20, 2005

    Stem Cell Breakthrough

    Fox News reports that a group of South Korean scientists have found a way to create groups of stem cells genetically identical to a patient. This passes a major hurdle on the road to creating replacement tissue.

    The Korea Times does a good job of tooting their own horn, i.e. culling all the critical praise the doctor, Hwang Woo-suk, and his team have garnered from the scientific community. Understanding their take onthe results makes it worth reading.

    Of course, this all puts pressure on the US to step into the stem cell research arena. For years, South Korea has headed the fight, while America shuns stem cells due to fears of destroying embryos. The Foundation for Stem Cell Research led the fight in California (successful this past November) to pass proposition 71, an ordinance allocating $3 billion (that California doesn't really have...to the annoyance of school teachers) towards stem cell research that the federal government won't back. Basically it's a slap at Bush so he'll wake up and allow more research.

    I hope that soon the government will listen to the broader medical and scientific community. I personally don't have an moral or religious qualms about stem cell research. I think the body grows for a bit before the spirit enters it, and stem cells do not have the differentiated brain cells that could even possibly support cognitive thought. In this way you could look at the embryo as not yet a living organism, but more of an outgrowth from the mother. There are also reams of evidence on the benefits of stem cells, taken from umbilical cords or elsewhere, in treatments and research. I don't foresee President Bush doing anything about it soon. The USA is still very conservative on this issue. Maybe in 2007-8.

    P.S. Just found this related article at CNN.com


    jaed said...

    You do realize that there's no restriction at all on federal funding for adult stem cells ("taken from unbilical cords or elsewhere", as opposed to taken from embryos); that there's no ethical problem with use of such cells; that there are treatments in use now that rely on adult stem cells (and none using embryonic stem cells); and that America is a leader in research using adult stem cells; right?


    Triet said...


    Very good points. I feel I may have written my point too ambiguous. Yes, I do realize that there is no problem with adult stem cells, and I encourage everyone who is having a child (and who has no cultural objections to the use of cord blood) to allow the hospitals to sell that blood for use in research. I am proud of the United States and the lead in research it has taken in many areas, including stem cell research.

    That said, the shortage of available cord cells for stem cell research slows the pace of research in this field tremendously. The use of embryonic stem cells would help alleviate this problem. Cell lines in general are tremendously expensive to develop and maintain, and that translates into higher prices for other labs who want to use them.

    The ethical dilemma is actually a good thing, in my opinion, because it highlights the unique value of American society. From its founding, America has been a mix of social conservatives who dare to press the unknown. How else would some religiously conservative puritans successfully mixed with the debtors, slave traders, and others who just wanted to escape Europe, into founding the first modern democracy in the world? But that is another post. This dichotomy of beliefs shows a country wanting to lead in scientific research, but containing a lot of people that are opposed to embryonic stem cells. The special nature of America has always been it’s ability to stick to tradition while exploring new frontiers.

    In this instance, I side with those exploring. My religious and moral convictions tell me that abortion is wrong, except in the instance of incest, rape or jeopardy of the mother’s life. They also tell me that the law of the land allows abortion, and I should not begrudge anyone from obtaining it, although I can do everything I can to persuade the mother not to go through with it, or change the law through my vote. My convictions tell me that when a baby is in a womb and kicking, there is life, and that should not be stopped. In the case of an embryo, I don’t feel the soul enters the body immediately upon conception. The embryo divides, and even at 32 cells (morula) still remains primarily totipotent. I would accept research using these cells because I don’t feel there is sentient life at this point. However, the term embryo can be used throughout the first 8 weeks of pregnancy, and my opinion is that is far too long.

    No matter what, it is the healthy discussion of both sides that will eventually allow America to come to a conclusion both ethical and enlightened.