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Saturday, July 22, 2006

Moral Stem Cells

An editorial in the May issue of First Things argues that there is a possibility of producing embryonic stem cells without producing (or, hence, destroying) any human embryos, using a technique known as Altered Nuclear Transfer-Oocyte Assisted Reprogramming (ANT-OAR). The technique, if it can be made to work, would involve transferring the nucleus of a cell from an adult human into an altered unfertilized egg cell which had had its nucleus removed. Additional tinkering would ensure that the biochemistry of the host cytoplasm would not turn the nucleus into a totipotent cell (that is, one that could develop into an embryo, as happens in cloning) but into a pluripotent cell (that is, an embryonic stem cell).

The author, a theologian, argues that this would not be equivalent to murder. (Some people, of course, believe that use of fertilized eggs would not necessarily be equivalent to murder, but ANT-OAR is an attempt to satisfy even the many who believe that it would be.)

Writes the author:
An entity is a human embryo only if the organic material is able to be human—if, in the language of Aristotle, it is apt to receive a substantial human form. Not every collection of organic material, even material that includes an oocyte and a diploid nucleus, can be a human being. We know this because we know that teratomas (naturally occurring tumors)—together with hydatidiform moles (disorganized entities that occur in humans and other animals as a result of certain types of defects in fertilization) and even oocytes themselves—are not human embryos, yet they all have as their starting material an oocyte and a diploid nucleus. [links added]

As I understand it, one of the bills recently passed unanimously by the U. S. Senate could authorize support for research of this type.

Thanks for reading!

6 comments:

Julana said...

Honestly, sometimes I wish I lived back in the 1950's. The morality business is getting complicated.

Martin LaBar said...

Well, that's one problem with so much technological ability.

Thanks.

Mirtika said...

Wisdom in the face of change has never, ever been easy.

But I've prayed for YEARS for God to bless the non-embryo destroying type of stem cell research and give no blessing or good result to research that views frozen embryos with such a callous eye.

I want cures for the horrible diseases--Parkinson's, paralysis, etc--but I don't want us to use questionable means, even evil means, to do "good."

I think if we all put more effort into supporting by fervent prayer science work, research, tests on non-embryonic stem cells, God would illuminate and bless that work.

I am middle-aged and in poor health. I fear what is ahead the way most folks who hit and pass mid-life do when they have seen parents felled by chronic and horrible ailments. But I hope I never cave and accept treatment that required someone's killing. I hope I never get that weak or desperate that my benefit comes at whatever cost.

Mir

Martin LaBar said...

Thanks.

Would the technique described in this post amount to "killing?" I'm not sure that it would, but I understand that there are people who believe that it would, indeed, hence oppose its use.

Mirtika said...

No. As you've described this technique, it does not seem like it qualifies as "killing," and I would have no objection to it, unless someone pointed out something I may not have considered and is convincing. I don't know what that "something" might be, though. :)

Mir

Martin LaBar said...

Thanks.