Subject: Life Must Take Priority Over Research
Source: UCLA Daily Bruin; September 24, 2001
Life Must Take Priority Over Research
by Dr. Marc Hedrick
[Pro-Life Infonet Note: Dr. Hedrick
is an associate professor of Surgery
& Pediatrics at UCLA.]
Stem cells are the early building blocks
of each of us. All 210 different
types of human tissue originate from these primitive cells. Because
have the potential to become any kind of tissue, including brain, heart
and skin, scientists believe that these cells may be the key to unlock
new era in which organs and body parts are "made" from scratch.
emerging discipline is known as tissue engineering. Stem cells can be
found in human embryos as well as the human body any time after birth.
questions govern their proposed use: 1) Will stem cell-based treatments
effective and 2) is the use of embryonic stem cells ethical_
There is a scientific consensus regarding
the potential scientific and
medical impact of stem cell research. In May 2000, the National Institutes
of Health issued this unambiguous statement: "Given the enormous
of stem cells to the development of new therapies for the most devastating
diseases, when a source of stem cells is identified, it is not too
unrealistic to say that this research will revolutionize the practice
medicine and improve the quality and length of life."
Stem cell research will likely benefit
society in at least two ways: 1) it
will help define how stem cells themselves can be used to repair or
regenerate diseased tissues and organs and 2) study of the basic biology
of stem cells will help contribute to a better understanding of how
develop in the earliest stages.
The consensus regarding stem cells deteriorates,
however, when the debate
shifts to which stem cell is most promising. Embryonic stem cells or
have garnered the lion's share of the media attention.
These early fetal cells not only contain
all the genetic information of
the individual but also contain the nascent capacity to become any of
200+ cells and tissues of the body. Ongoing research suggests that these
cells have tremendous scientific and clinical potential.
However, ESCs have theoretic limitations
to their use. If used clinically
they would necessarily be derived from another "individual"
When stem cells or tissues derived from
them are transplanted into another
person, toxic immune suppressing drugs may be needed by the cell recipient
to prevent rejection. In addition, another's cells can carry viruses
other rare but significant diseases that can be transmitted to the
Also, ESC-like cells (e.g., teratomas)
are known to form tumors. Any
tissues developed for patients from ESCs must not develop tumors and
have the innate ability to respond to the normal signals that tell tissues
to grow, stop growing or heal.
Recently, non-embryonic or "adult"
stem cells have been identified and
represent an important potential alternative to the clinical use of
These cells reside quietly in many if not all of our tissues, presumably
waiting to respond to trauma or other destructive disease processes
that they can heal the injured tissue.
Emerging scientific evidence indicates
that each of us carries with us a
"pool" of stem cells far more immature than previously thought,
like ESCs with the ability to become many if not all types of cells
Remarkably, even our fat tissue has
been shown to contain stem cells with
the potential to recapitulate lost or missing tissues such as bone,
cartilage, muscle and other tissues. Because of the availability of
tissue through the common surgical procedure called liposuction, these
cells may represent a practically unlimited and easily obtainable source
of one's own stem cells.
In the near future, one could donate
his or her own stem cells which could
be concentrated and replaced back in a form and number sufficient to
or mend a broken body part. Because these cells are derived from the
patient, there would be no possibility of rejection, no need for immune
suppressing drugs, and no risk of disease transmission.
Fortunately, the risk of these normally
quiescent cells developing into
tumors appears to be quite small.
Admittedly, stem cell science itself
is in its early stages of
development. In the future, it will tell us which methods of stem cell
research will work: adult, embryonic or both. However, it can't tell
which methods are right.
The moral issues must also be considered.
If they are dismissed in favor of unrestrained
scientific progress, one
can hardly condemn past atrocities such the Tuskegee experiments of
1920s in which black men suffering from syphilis were promised treatment,
only to have it denied so scientists could study the disease.
Despite claims to the contrary, embryo
stem cell research (ESCR) is not
morally complex. It comes down to just one question: Is the embryo
actually a human being_
If so, killing it to benefit others
is a serious moral wrong. It treats
the distinct human being, with his or her own inherent moral worth,
nothing more than a disposable instrument. Conversely, if the embryos
question are not human, killing them to extract stem cells requires
more justification than having a tooth pulled. Why not create them solely
for research that benefits others_
Scientifically, few dispute that individual
human life begins at
conception. Unlike sperm and ovum, which merely contain human genetic
material, the embryo possesses the active (inherent) capacity to develop
itself into a fetus, infant, child and adult.
It is a distinct, unified, self-integrating
human organism. Dr. Landrum
Shettles, the first scientist to achieve conception in a test tube,
that conception not only confers life, it "defines" life.
That is to say,
at no point does the distinct organism that came into being undergo
"substantial change" or change of nature. It is human and
will remain so.
It is an immature human, as is an infant, but a human being nonetheless.
True, embryos differ from newborns (or,
for that matter, toddlers) in
terms of size, location and development, but are these differences morally
significant in the way proponents of ESCR need them to be_
For example, everyone agrees that embryos
are small perhaps smaller than
the dot at the end of this sentence. But since when do rights depend
how large we are_ Men are generally larger than women, but that hardly
means they deserve more rights.
Development also fails to disqualify
the embryo as fully human. A
4-year-old girl is less developed than a 14-year-old one, yet no
reasonable person would conclude that she is less than fully human because
of it. Nonetheless, many proponents of ESCR insist that human embryos
non-sentient, non-rational clumps of cells unworthy of the status "human
However, if rationality and self-consciousness
define the morally
significant person, then why shouldn't greater rationality make you
of a person_ Consequently, the intellectually and artistically gifted
would be free to maximize their pleasure at the expense of those less
In reply, some argue destructive embryo
research is justified because
"these embryos will be discarded anyway." This reasoning is
One could, with equal validity, suggest that we allow destructive research
on 6-month fetuses scheduled for partial-birth abortions or on political
prisoners scheduled for execution in China "since these humans
The fact is that we all die sometime.
Do those of us who are going to die
later have the right to kill (and exploit) those who will die sooner_
Even if an individual's death is imminent,
we still do not have a license
to use him for lethal experiments, which is why we do not conduct
experiments upon death-row prisoners or harvest their organs without
In short, critics of ESCR argue that
the practice violates the very
principle that once made political liberalism great: A basic commitment
protect the weakest and most vulnerable members of the human community.
Thankfully, the choice between medical
progress and moral principle is a
false dilemma. New research suggests that embryonic human beings do
need to lose their lives in order to save ours.
There are morally acceptable ways of
performing medical research and