Wednesday, July 19, 2006

More on embryo destruction

Jay Bullock - and a few e-mailers - think my Journal-Sentinel column on stem cells misses the point. They focus on the recent congressional bill that would lift restrictions on the research use of recently created embryos in IVF clinics. They already exist, the argument goes. The cow is out of the barn and all that.

This actually supports my point. We needn't ask hard questions, they say, because it's a fait accompli. But look at it how this has worked. We permitted research on lines created before 2001. But IVF clinics have continued to create far more embryos than they need so why not use them as well? And if IVF clinics create even more embryos in order to sell them for research, well they were already creating them, why not create more? If it turns out, then, that we need to clone embryos to see if we can get truly effective medical use, we already are creating them for research, why not create one with a patient's precise genetic composition?

And then if it turns out that growing your own genetically matched liver, is just what you need ....

Jay links to a post by a blogger known as Mixter who makes the same point and assumes that embryonic-destructive research might have saved her brother who died, tragically, at a young age from complications associated with spinal cord injury. The hope of curing disease is powerful and important, but it doesn't make the moral questions go away. If what it took to save her brother - or herself - was the creation of babies, perhaps genetically altered to be incapable of higher thought or feeling pain, would that be ok?

Happily, there is some possibility that the dilemma posed by embryonic-destructive research go away because scientists may be about to figure out how to make adult stem cells pluripotent. You can read about it here. But I don't know that this answers the hard questions that are certain to follow.

What is ironic is that the House killed a bill that would have expressed additional support for non-embryo destructive research. It's almost as if the Dems want to start down that slippery slope.

7 comments:

Jay Bullock said...

Your last paragraph leaves me confused. You say the House killed a bill . . . but then blame Democrats. Democrats haven't controlled the House since 1994.

Rick Esenberg said...

They needed 2/3 to bring the bill to a vote.

Mixter said...

I don't understand the logic that if additional embryonic stem cells (which would be destroyed anyway -- talk about a waste!) are used for research, it opens the door to "fetal farming" and other Dr. Mengele-like horrors! How does anyone get there?

These embryos are never going to be babies anyway. If infertile couples want them, that's great. Let them have the embryos so they can try to have a child of their own. I'm all for that. But the embryos left behind NEVER to become a human baby should be used for something useful to humankind, rather than ending up as medical waste.

I've got another post on the topic, if you're at all interested.

Mixter

Rick Esenberg said...

As far as "they would be destroyed anyway", you are creating incentives to make them. As for this leading to fetal farming, explain why not? What is it about the fetus that distinguished it from the embryo? Is it that it has, at some point, little arms and legs? Do you think that will stand up? Is it because it may be, again at some point, susceptible to pain? What if it could be killed painlessly? Now is the time to talk about those things. This isn't the no-brainer you think it is.

Jay Bullock said...

Rick, the House doesn't need a two-thirds vote to do anything but ratify Constitutional amendments or expel a member, if I remember my civics right. You might be thinking of something in the Senate? A link woule help.

More importantly, there's a simple answer to the "incentive to make more" question: A law that states that no individual or institution may profit from the sale of frozen embryos. Clinics couldn't buy excess embryos from couples and sell them at a mark-up to labs. I bet you could get a 100% vote on that one.

Rick Esenberg said...

It was because they were operating under a rules suspension which limited debate and prohibited amendments as you can see here and here.

Mixter said...

Explain why not? I suppose Congress would be just too ineffectual to create legislation that would only allow embryos that were going to be discarded to be used for scientific research, eh? (Of course, there are a lot of Republicans in Congress right now... That's a joke, son!)

Exactly how does using embryos that are destined for destruction anyway create incentives to make more of them? I'd really like to hear the explanation, because I fail to see how you came to that conclusion.

I don't understand how using discarded embryos for medical research is worse than destroying them for no purpose!

Maybe we should outlaw in vitro fertilization then?

I never said it was a no-brainer. I know many people are morally opposed to this. I'm not actually for it myself, just for the sake of research. In a perfect world, every fertilized egg would turn into a perfect little baby with perfect parents and grow up in a perfect world. That doesn't happen. Ever. But I'm getting off point here.

It just seems like an awful waste that if these embryos are going to end up destroyed, they might as well be used for the possibility of helping humans in some way.

Mixter