Thursday, November 16, 2006

When the Work-Around Exacerbates the Original Problem

Scientists in Britain are proposing a new method of creating stem cells for research: combining an animal egg (probably that of a cow) with the nucleus of an adult human cell to produce... ?

Whatever it was would then divide itself for six days, upon which time the researchers would try to harvest stem cells and then destroy the... thing.

According to this article in the London Times, the method is proposed as an alternative to the use of human eggs which are “in short supply” and mainly used in infertility treatment. The article doesn’t mention the existing supply of excess, unused embryos created in the course of that treatment, whose proposed role in stem cell research is creating controversy for ethical and religious reasons. Currently, those excess embryos are frozen, and are eventually discarded.

I can see where some might have a problem with creating human embryos for the express purpose of research. However the objection to using embryos that would otherwise be unceremoniously destroyed, is beyond me.

And the idea that creating some kind of sci-fi human-animal hybrid is a better solution to this problem, is totally insane.

While the plan is to use the proposed technology strictly to obtain stem cells, the potential for abuse is enormous. If an egg of this sort found its way into a womb – I don’t even want to speculate on what species of womb – what would be the result? What laws would apply? What unforeseen public health hazards might occur? Not to mention the moral, religious and ethical concerns which would be legion; much more complicated than the issue of destroying an embryo in the name of life-saving research rather than throwing it out in the garbage.

The march of scientific progress is like the flow of water: it will find its own level, and if blocked it will find a way around the obstacle, with sometimes tragic results. Those who try to impede progress need to take a good look at what potential abomination their opposition is creating.