Adult vs. Embryonic Stem Cells

The news is filled lately with stories about the promise of adult stem-cell therapy. Last fall, for example, researchers reported they successfully produced stem cells from adult skin cells, bypassing the need for embryonic stem cells. The Los Angeles Times reported recently that treatment using umbilical and marrow cells healed a boy of a fatal skin disease. Doctors said the treatment’s success may move that disease “off the incurable list” for other patients.

And the Family Research Council just released a report about more successes. “Currently, peer-reviewed studies have documented 73 different conditions in humans where patient health has been improved through adult stem cell therapy… and over 1,400 FDA approved trials are ongoing.”

The paper describes a myriad of therapies, including the regeneration of heart tissue for a man with congestive heart failure; enabling a patient with Type I Diabetes to become insulin-free; and the treatment of a bone-cancer victim, who is now cancer-free. The report also cites adult stem-cell treatments that could treat trauma injuries and help patients with liver cancer.

Good news, indeed-and good news that we no longer have to wrestle with the moral question of embryonic stem cell research.

Well, not so fast… Both candidates for president still favor it, for they are marching to the drumbeat of those who want no restrictions on science.

Michael Kinsley, for example, a columnist who himself suffers from Parkinson’s, said bluntly, “This issue [that is, embryonic stem cell research] will not go away.”

“Scientifically,” Kinsley says, “it makes no sense to abandon any promising avenue just because another has opened up… Every year that goes by, science opens new doors.”

I hope you see the problem: Just because science opens a door does not mean we should walk through it. In fact, science rarely asks the question, “Should we?” It only asks the question, “Can we?”

Kinsley’s response reflects a certain worldview: specifically, “scientism,” the belief that scientific investigation is the only means to knowledge and progress. As such, it must be free from restraints or interference. Scientists — not political leaders, and certainly not morally concerned citizens — ought to determine what is or is not permissible in the laboratory.

In addition, scientism, given its materialistic grounding, rejects any appeal to the sanctity of human life. The worldview of scientism teaches that we humans are merely an interesting and potentially useful collection of cells and genetic material.

The problem is, if a human embryo only has worth insofar as it can be used for others, then what worth does a person have who is dependent on others-say, someone who is permanently disabled? See where that leaves Kinsley and all the rest of us? Vulnerable.

It is certain that the next president will revisit federal policy on embryo-destructive research. Even though it is not needed, proponents are not going to back down. That is why Christians, who believe in the sacredness of human life from conception to natural death, need to continue vigorous opposition to research on living human beings. If we do not, who is next in a world with science unchecked by ethical restraints?

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  • Claire

    I’m very disappointed to hear that McCain favors embryonic stemcell research. However, he’s certainly more pro-life than Obama, the most anti-life candidate we’ve ever had.

  • Grace Harman

    Pro-life groups need to cqntact McCain and explain the truth that one can’t do evil to accomplish a “good”. EMBRYONIC stem cells are the life of a unique person that has a right to life, and should NOT be killed.
    Adult cells have saved lives since the late 1950’s (bone marrow transplants). Now people can donate their own tissues, and even skin cells can be worked with to solve problems without killing anyone. There are 10 “ethical” sources of stem cells. Why push for the one un-ethical source that has not accomplished anything but tumors so far?

  • jchege

    Fr. Pavone, PFL has talked to McCain and he is coming around to the right way of thinking about. When we bring people who seak the truth to the truth they ussually accept it.

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