By now you’ve heard about the new stem cell breakthrough. It’s exciting — researchers took an ordinary skin cell from a mouse and reprogrammed it to act like a brand new cell that’s never before been anything. Or, in other words, the reprogrammed fibroblast became identical to an embryonic stem cell. In this new research, no eggs are used and no embryos are destroyed.
Many people think this means we don’t need to pursue the morally-complicated embryonic stem cell route and many others think we should research all possible options. In some ways, for those of us with disabilities affecting our spinal cords and brains, there is absolutely nothing new in this debate and our positions remain unchanged. Who cares where treatment comes from, as long as it comes?
Well, as pro-choice and pro-embryonic stem cell research as I am, I care. I’m savvy enough to know no babies are killed for embryonic stem cells, but it’s still hard to understand the actual science behind it all. So research guaranteed to be 100 percent baby-free has a certain appeal for me.
I remember when I first heard about embryonic stem cells. I had this image of a tiny baby in a fluid-filled bubble with tubes running from it and scientists growing drops of that fluid into hearts, spinal cords and silvery-sheened myelin sheaths. Fortunately this morally disturbing image is false.
In embryonic stem cell research, before the four-day-old cell clump has a chance to move toward babyhood it’s coaxed into becoming something else. Also, these clumps are usually left over from in vitro fertilization procedures -- only used for medical research with the consent of the donors. So no babies in bubbles. But no cures, either. Not for a long time, anyway. First researchers have to figure out why nascent body parts grown with embryonic stem cells are prone to tumors and stuff like that.
And this new type of research? Well, all we know right now is that it works OK in mice. …
I imagine the Peter Singer camp will find fault with using mouse skin cells. After all it as important to prevent animal suffering as it is promote actively ending the lives of people with disabilities who usefulness is compromised.
Personally I just don't understand the uproar about embryonic stem cell research. We donate our eyes and organs for scientific research after death. There is honor in that. Why not give that same honor to discarded embryos by giving them part of the future through their contribution to science. Susan