Thursday, March 12, 2009


I suppose, being a doctor and all, I should say something about Obama's new policy on embryonic stem-cell research. On the other hand, as a surgeon -- and a non research-minded one at that -- it's not an area in which I have any special knowledge or expertise. But that's never stopped me from having an opinion.

From what little I know about embryology, it makes sense to me that embryonic stem cells would be more pluripotent than adult ones. And, as in other areas of science into which some want to insert their religious views while ignoring or denying actual data (evolution and cosmology, e.g.) I'm skeptical of deniers. Having no personal knowledge, nor having read much in the area, I find it significant that many researchers claim there is potential, and are delighted at the news of the policy change.

But that's not the point. This is:

Objections to use of embryonic stem cells are based on a religious view which is shared by a minority of the populace, and which, like so many other religious views, requires contorting oneself into inconsistent positions to maintain. The central one of which is making no distinction between the humanity of a cluster of a few cells of microscopic size, and that of a fetus. I understand the desire of many religionists to think in absolute terms. Gray is not on the palette, nor such words on the palate. But even that's not the most important point. This is:

It's simply nonsensical to argue that it's better to destroy embryos (or, even more ridiculously, to keep them frozen for all eternity) than to use them for research. It leads to such sophistry as this: the extent that pro-lifers do accept the current fertility-clinic culture as a given, I still think there's a worthwhile moral distinction to be drawn between "pointlessly" freezing the embryos left over from an attempt to have children, and just handing them over to be killed. Yes, a frozen embryo will probably be destroyed eventually, and the pro-life gesture involved in freezing it is probably just an empty gesture. But there's still a difference between a situation in which death is probable and a situation where it's inevitable, and I think it's a mistake to efface that line...

I wonder if it's hard to breathe when you've bent yourself around that tightly.

Apocalyptic arguments notwithstanding (I'm not referring to the above paragraph: I'm moving on), in reversing the Bush rules we're not talking about baby farms, about producing embryos just for the purpose of research. There are, and will be, more than enough from legitimate fertility clinics. Nor is the lining up a gaggle of "snowflake children" for public display any sort of logical argument: no one is suggesting wrenching the implanted from anyone's womb. If you think every frozen embryo can be adopted, line up takers, not the finished product.

So. I don't know if embryonic stem cells have more medical potential than adult ones, but, based on dimming med-school memories, I'd bet they do. In any case, I'd like to find out. I have no problem with taking a pre-existing and unused cluster of entirely undifferentiated cells, a microscopically small group, and using them in legitimate and potential life-saving research, as opposed to flushing them down the toilet or pretending to preserve them with no end-point and no intention of implantation.

To those who argue differently on religious grounds, I say I respect your right to those beliefs. God knows there are even greater inconsistencies regarding life in the Bible. But I'd suggest the following compromise: rather than working to prevent others who believe differently from enjoying the benefits of embryonic stem cell research, why not just take a pledge -- and make good on it -- not to avail yourself of any therapies that come from it? Start a movement, take a vow, raise your right hand, sign up everyone you can. If their diseases make it too hard for them to make a mark, sign it for them. And if they forget they signed, remind them.



  1. i have to to confess that when i finally read the details, i was surprised at the restrictions that will remain when it comes to obtaining stem cells. still, it is wonderful to see the president act in a manner congruent with science.

    i predict that over time, the 'hoopla' over the use of embryonic cells for research will go the way of the 'hoopla' over desegregation, miscegenation, etc.

  2. Hmm saw the "Stemwinder" title and figured it was about Barney Fa..Frank but I'll try anyways..

    Speaking of minorities, you DO know that most of those Stem Cell Producing Fetii ARE Black, Brown??, your basic huddled Masses... heck, Abortions the only thing thats kept Republicans in the game...

  3. ...As opposed to Drackman, who has no melanin. He is an albino, and not just any albino. He is an albino who is also an imbecile.

  4. When dealing with reproductive endocrinologists with integrity, the question of what to do with any leftover enbryos is brought up.

    Our grandson is the happy result of reproductive technology, and our daughter and SIL had to decide what to do with leftover embryos at the start of the process. They had to put it in writing- what if one or both of them were killed, what about divorce, and so forth. In the end it wasn't needed as there were no leftover embryos, but it was brought up at the start, along with extensive discussion of their family planning- no octomoms coming from that doctor.

    I really ought to write that doctor and let him know how happy his knowledge and skill have made our family. I realize that stem cell research is a separate branch of medicine, but I see no reason why reproductive treatment can't help it out. Maybe Jack's diabetes could be cured.


  5. All I know as a simple surgeon, is that it is beyond amazing that anything FROZEN solid can somehow be thawed out and become a person. I have no dog either way in stemcell research but really glad I didn't start frozen or became a "discarded embryo"...the whole thing is outer space to my made the old fashioned way brain. Good note, Nancy. Happy for you!

  6. Frank: "you DO know that most of those Stem Cell Producing Fetii ARE Black, Brown??, your basic huddled Masses"

    Full of crap, as usual, Frank. The easiest place to get stem cells is from frozen embryos; we don't get them from aborted embryos, which would present enormous logistical problems (duh). The big majority of the frozen embryos are caucasian.

  7. "The big majority of the frozen embryos are caucasian."

    In other words, light brown -- unlike Frank, the imbecilic albino.


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