Opinions

Scientific progress or exploiting the unborn

Stem cell research is at the center of worldwide moral controversy

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Fetal stem cell research is morally and scientifically flawed.

Despite the promise of miracle cures for everything from spinal cord injuries to Alzheimer's, it is wrong to take human life in the form of embryos for the potential future benefit of others. I emphasize potential because there is no concrete evidence that stem cell research will lead to anything therapeutically useful. It is reprehensible that we accept and continue to use the antibiotic products of Nazi-era research that resulted in the deaths and suffering of thousands. In the same sense, it is also wrong to accept any products from stem cell research which resulted in the deaths of thousands of babies.

As a society and according to provincial and federal legislation, the abortion of viable fetuses for any reason other than the health of the mother is legally and morally reprehensible. Nonetheless, we allow it and also encourage the exploitation of animals for medical research for the benefit of humans, regardless of the life and condition of the animals.

These two tenets are mutually incompatible. They encourage suffering in animals or the unborn in order to diminish human suffering. They arbitrarily place a higher value on human life than on animal life by not allowing the same type of mutilating research to be carried out on humans.

Some have argued that fetuses should be granted protection only once they are capable of suffering. Why only then? Fetuses, like humans, are arbitrarily sacred and should not be murdered.

As humans, we cannot ignore suffering in others, and to insist that humans are not sacred impinges on the spiritual faith of too many. For these reasons, we cannot morally condone embryonic stem-cell research, despite whatever benefits may arise from that research.

But what of the scientific and social issues?

Deliberately or not, scientists are obscuring the fact that any stem cells used for human transplantation--generated using today's technology--would not be entirely human. All fetal stem cell lines in existence can only grow with the help of mutant helper cells from mice, and a soup of cow blood and other tissues on which to feed. Hence, resulting therapeutic stem cells would contain a mixture of another human's stem cells, living mouse cells, bovine proteins and other miscellaneous chemicals and tissue. All of these are incompatible with the patient and would therefore require dangerous simultaneous immunosuppressant therapy to work.

Does this really provide a better quality of life? While an immuno-compromised patient may be physically healthier, someone with dead fetus and mouse cells would face social and other recrimination not only from the anti-cloning set, but the anti-xenotransplantation people too. How would our supposedly tolerant society treat such an individual if confronted with the knowledge that they could carry and spread musine viruses and other pathogens--for which we have no defence or treatment--or transmit both their own DNA along with mouse and possibly bovine DNA to their children? We have enough social problems as it is without deliberately creating more disharmony for the benefit of a few.

And what of the financial cost of treatment? We know that culturing stem cells is a time and money-intensive process, with even the most preliminary work taking upwards of months. That situation leaves the treatment available to solely the rich, as subsidizing such treatment with public funds would be politically and socially unacceptable.

Further, we cannot as a society in good conscience devote government or any other funding to research that commodifies humans. Already, factories exist to mass produce human embryos for stem cell and other research. Sperm, eggs, and fertilized zygotes are fetching tens of thousands of dollars on both the open and black markets. Fetal stem cell research can only unnecessarily increase demand for these products of death when viable and morally acceptable alternatives, such as somatic stem cells derived from adults are available.

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