September 08, 2006
Ceding the Ethical Ground on Stem Cells
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Biotechnology
The Washington Post has a good news story on the possibility of "ethically acceptable" stem cell research that helps clarify the confusion created by an over-hyped story in Nature, involving business interests, a misleading press release, and a erroneous reporting of the story by Nature. But the over-hyping may be the least important aspect of this situtation for proponents of stem cell research. Firt, here is an excerpt from the Post story:
Two senators who strongly support human embryonic stem cell research lashed out yesterday at the scientist who recently reported the creation of those cells by a method that does not require the destruction of embryos, saying the scientist and his company have harmed the struggling field by overstating their results.
Over-hyped science? Financial ties to industry? Misrepresentation in a peer-reviewed journal? Where is the War-on-Science crowd when you need them? Oh yeah, this doesn’t involve the Bush Administration . . .
Less tongue-in-cheek, and more significantly, what has been completely overlooked here is the complete tactical blunder by ACT, Nature, and the general media in suggesting that in order to be “ethical” stem cell research should not destroy embryos. The acceptance of this point basically legitimizes the central objection to such research advanced by stem cell research opponents. It consequently takes off the table the argument that the benefits of possible medical advances might be balanced against the offense to certain groups in society. Over the long run, it may be that waging the debate over stem cells from the turf occupied by its opponents does more to limit its proponents than their ham-handed efforts to over-hype the science.
As the American Journal of Bioethics writes of this debacle on its blog:
Can't we just be honest and say that we favor embryonic stem cell research, at least for now, since that's what happens at ACT (and since it is true), even though the research destroys embryos?Posted on September 8, 2006 01:53 AM
We have to start doing science and simply ignore these Christian/Islamic backwater types who would be happy to live in the 6Th century. Get real, we live in the 21st century now, and the coming bio/nanotech advances will allow us to manipulate all the cells in the human body, so as to make it easy to reverse aging, eliminate cancer etc, boost intelligence, brain-to-brain/Internet links, storing/exchanging memories, customizing peoples looks by nanotech, the possibilities are quite open, but we have to first just ignore these rather stupid anti-progress crowd that hides under the republican and various religious tents.
Posted by: marf at September 8, 2006 03:38 PM
Hyping science is a bad idea, period. But if this technique did moot the objections of the anti-ESCR crowd (I'm not sure it does...), then the main obstacle to federal funding of this research would be removed. Not a small accomplishment, I think.
That said, and despite believing that ESCR should be pursued vigorously, I don't think it should be supported with tax dollars so long as a sizable portion of the tax paying citizenry have sincere, unanswered moral objections to such research. It's my old-fashioned belief in the principle of freedom of conscience that's at work here. Those of us who do believe in the importance of this research should exercise our rights to freedom of association and freedom of inquiry to support ESCR, without compelling support from those who disagree with us about its morality.
Posted by: bob koepp at September 8, 2006 05:14 PM
It is not a tactical blunder for ACT to describe embryo destruction as "unethical", becasue doing so gives them a competative advantage over other other stem cell producers.
Assuming, of course, that they are willing to lose efficiency by actually practicing what they claim. As it is, they seem to be saying, "Well, we could make stem cells without harming the embryo, but we aren't going to bother because it lowers our productivity."
I'm not really sure who that statement is supposed to appeal to.
Posted by: Lab Lemming at September 8, 2006 07:21 PM
Progress does not mean we have to ignore ethical dilemmas while altering our genetic structures or our dependence on medicine and biotechnology. We must continue to dilligently grade our moral and ethical stances beside our advancements. Without these considerations we can become lost to understanding why we have an ethical or moral conscience. If we were to disregard harming the embroyonic cells just to appease our desire to acquire human cells than we are simply taking less intellectually strenuous and challenging routes to achieveing what appears to be in the name of financial incentives. Being ethical doesn't mean being anti-progress. As we saw in the case of Enron, exectutives and traders devoid of ethics will and did inflict pain upon people who were supposed to be benefiting from the 'rationalization' of the energy markets. We should exercise these same moral cautions when extracting human cells and should not have to benefit many at the cost of a few.
Posted by: james at September 9, 2006 08:19 AM