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Don’t compromise. We need embryo research.

Saturday, 16 February, 2008

In some of the recent news articles I have read have mentioned the recent research deriving pluripotent stem cells from somatic cells rather than embryonic cells. This Deutsche Welle news story that I linked to previously says this:

…advances in science may help to take the heat off the ethical debate. Last November, teams of US and Japanese researchers said they had reprogrammed human skin cells to function like embryonic stem cells.

Little 7 week embryo. With beating heart too.

This view is echoed by Søren Holm in a recent editorial in the Journal of Medical Ethics.

I don’t want heat taken off the debate. Keep the heat on to make research on human embryos legal. We need embryo research for reasons other than for use in stem cell research. The field of embryology would be helped greatly by being able to examine the early development of human embryo, and may shed light on the processes underlying the many congenital malformations and teratogenic incidents that affect many children (and adults) today and in the future. If we ever get around to making genetic modification of embryos legal, it will be essential to examine them for any adverse effects the modification procedure may have. In fact, any new reproductive procedure will surely need to create a few embryos without the purposes of implanting them.

I fear that if the new research yields embryonic-like cells that prove just as effective as the real deal in treatments, that the release in ‘pressure’ could see regulation impose restrictions again on the creation of human embryos for research purposes only.

The bioconservatives and reactionary pro-lifers need to face these ethical dilemmas with the knowledge that their belief in a magic ‘soul’ – that inhabits certain human cells at some vague stage in the reproductive process – is going to cause suffering and death. I certainly don’t wish that these people be prevented from hearing about the latest science, but they should be made completely aware that embryo research is not just for stem cells, and restricting it will prevent other therapies from being developed.

So, next time somebody says there is not reason to do research on embryos because we can just use adult cells as stem cells, ask them if they would like more research on causes, prevention and cures for spina bifida, cleft palate and aphallia (absence of a penis or clitoris). All of these present early in the embryo, even less than 8 weeks after conception (the picture, above, is 7 weeks.) A beating heart is present at 3 weeks, so congenital heart disorders might also be a good example for the sake of argument (because of how common they are). After all, I don’t think a ‘pro-lifer’ wants to be a ‘pro-life of suffering-er’ (not that all congenital disorders cause much suffering, but many do).

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