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Scientific progress or exploiting the unborn

Stem cell research is at the center of worldwide moral controversy

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Would you like to see the paralyzed walk, or restore vision to the blind? What about cures for Alzheimer's, Parkinson's disease, arthritis, diabetes, or repairing the skin of burn victims? Then look to the science of stem cell research, send the miracle-cure evangelists packing and tell the Pope to get out of the research lab. Stem cell research can potentially cure not only these ailments, but a host of others.

Stem cell research offers hope to millions of people crippled with suffering every hour of every day due to diseases of their bodies or minds. Their daily lives include experiences that are only nightmares for many of us--experiences for which stem cell research may offer the only cure. They may lose the ability to feed themselves, dress themselves, or tell someone they're in pain. They may forget who they're married to, what day of the week it is, even who they are. Such stark realities make vague and philosophical arguments against stem cell research seem chillingly academic. They sweep consideration of genuine pain aside in favour of outdated and callous conceptions of morality.

Considerable opposition to stem cell research relates specifically to deriving stem cells from "fetal" tissue. Technically, the cells of scientific interest are not yet even a fetus, but a blastocyst, a tiny collection of cells smaller than the head of a pin without nerves, hearts, fingers or thoughts. Blastocysts are the result of several days of cell-division after the fertilization of an egg. They are no more human than a smaller-than-the-head-of-a-pin drop of blood. That we should even consider allowing our loved ones to live in very real misery because of the presumed potential for life these few dozen cells have is to banish compassion to a netherworld of moral chaos.

Stem cells are most efficiently derived from the earliest stages of human development, within four days of fertilization. The "fetal" stem cells under contention in American politics were obtained from fertility clinics who had blastocysts unneeded for fertility treatments. American legislators, acting largely in defence of the 'right to life' of these cells, successfully banned further use of the blastocysts, which are to be thrown out.

The Pope, among others, defends this concept of the sacredness of 'life' as a reason to deny pursuing the most promising of current stem cell research on the grounds that using blastocysts is murder.

Such a position effectively negates the validity of the suffering of millions of real people by saying that they can wait for a cure from another source. It is morally unacceptable to tell people who only have years or months to live to wait for cures when pursuing the current research models may offer them salvation from otherwise unending agony.

Similarly, there are many others who have a fear of "tampering" with life, or playing God. Presumably, these people confuse stem cell research with genetic

engineering or human cloning. Stem cell research gives us the opportunity to create cells that can replace dead or diseased tissue. It does not enable to create entire human beings. Unfortunately, there is a overwhelming amount of fear-mongering among those who oppose stem cell research, and they gladly muddy the waters for those who are unfamiliar with the nature of this new science.

Vigorous pursuit of stem cell research is the only way to effectively determine the extent of the benefits that we can reap from this technology. Anyone who considers compassion for their fellow humans to be an essential element of their value system should lobby for the pursuit of this research. To expedite the discovery process would be to bring heaven, in the form of relief, to those suffering on earth.

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