Push for embryonic stem cells may be part of an attempt to justify abortions
By Patricia Kasten
Compass Associate Editor
Is embryonic stem cell research a smoke screen?
As research reveals the increasing potential of adult stem cells,
the argument for embryonic stem cell research weakens. Yet we --
and Pres. Bush -- are still asked to support it.
Stem cells are the parent cells of all cells. The difference
between adult and embryonic stem cells, we were told, is that
embryonic cells can develop any type of cell: brain, heart, bone
or blood. Adult stem cells, usually extracted from blood or bone
marrow, were only capable of developing that type of cell.
New research questions that. The National Institutes for Health,
while seeking more funds for embryonic stem cell research,
recognizes the value of adult cells: "In animals, it has been
shown that some adult stems cells previously thought to be
committed to the development of one line of specialized cells are
able to develop into other types of specialized cells."
For example, stem cells from the bone marrow of mice can produce
liver cells. So adult stem cells may be able to develop into all
organ cells, even those where they have not yet been isolated.
Many people do not know that, while embryonic stem cell research
developed recently (cells were first isolated in 1997), adult
stems cells have been used for 30 years. For example, they are
why bone marrow transplants work.
Also, while there are no serious side effects from adult stem
cell use, there have been major ones with embryonic stem cells:
from implant rejection to tumors. So adults stem cells aid in
curing cancer, but embryonic stem cells may well cause it.
Then why experiment with embryonic cells when adult stem cells
are used safely and show potential for new applications?
The answer may lie in the source of embryonic stem cells. Most
come from abortion and fertility clinics. Does anyone like
discarding unborn human life? Probably not. However, many seem to
think it's inevitable: Women have abortions and embryos are
Could supporters of embryonic stem cell research be trying to
deflect attention from a negative - ending human life - to
something that looks positive? "Yes, it's sad abortion happens
and excess embryos are destroyed, but why not find some good in
it? Why not use discarded embryos and fetuses to help other -
already born - humans?"
Nazi scientists used similar arguments about experiments on Jews.
As Rudolf Hess said at his 1946 trial: "From time to time, we
conducted medical experiments on women inmates, including
sterilization and experiments relating to cancer. Most of the
people who died under these experiments had been already
condemned to death by the Gestapo."
It was a smoke screen the Nuremberg Tribunal ignored, refusing to
believe we can create good out of evil or life out of death. The
tribunal saw beyond the "medical experiments" smoke screen to the
reality of human suffering and death. And condemned it.
When we debate about ending human life to aid other human life,
is that just a smoke screen, too?