This blog started out as a companion piece to my book, Musings from the Christian Left (excerpts of which can be found in the July 2004 link) and to support a planned radio show. Now, its simply a long term writing project from a Christian Left Libertarian perspective (meaning I often argue for liberty within the (Catholic) Church, rather than liberty because the church takes care of a conservative view of morality.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Killing an Embryo?

It recently occurred to me that there is yet another reason why the Christian Right is wrong on stem cell research. It frankly amazes me that this argument has not come out before.

The opponents of stem cell research allege that an embryo must be destroyed for embryonic stem cell research to occur. This is not exactly true. The part of the blastocyst that is dispensed with in harvesting stem cells is not the embryo at all, but that portion that will eventually become part of the placenta. What will eventually become the embryo are the stem cells. If only two or three of the stem cells were harvested and the blastocyst were attached implanted in a uterus, a normal child could eventually develop. The harvested cells do not take from the whole, which means that in and of themselves they have no individuality. After gastrulation, every cell is necessary. Prior to gastrulation, every stem cell is expendable. By any non-politicial definition of what a soul is, from ontological to metaphysical, blastocysts do not have them and post-gastrulation embyos do (since from that point on they are individual and their development directive).

Recent developments show promise in circumventing this argument, which is a welcome development. That does not save the right wing from their error on this issue.

The importance of research on embyonic stem cells is not what we can do with the stem cells themselves. Rather, it is their eventual use in theraputic cloning - the insertion of DNA into an egg to create a blastocyst with harvestable stem cells which can be tricked into growing a new organ or spinal cord. Of course, the cells that are created will be the same "age" as the host when the cells were extracted. The only way they could be used to do something really radical, like reverse the aging process, would be to harvest and preserve the cells of a 20 year old and freeze them for use 70 years later in making stem cells and organs to replace the ones that have worn out. So long as you don't use all the cells with 20 year old telemeres you could keep repeating the process forever, as long as enough of the "20 year old" cells are kept in stasis to keep growing cloned parts. Of course, with recent developments, we may be able to do that without theraputic cloning. Theraputic cloning research is still necessary because it provides another option.


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