Friday, December 10, 2004

Towards Pro-Life Fetal Stem Cell Research?

Ramesh Ponnuru of National Review has a two part piece (part one, part two) up at Tech Central Station that investigate two knew proposals that could facilitate embryonic stem cell research and still pass the "pro-life" litmus test.
Two Columbia University scientists suggested that it might be possible to figure out which frozen embryos at fertility clinics were already dead and to take usable stem-cells from them. And William Hurlbut, a member of the Kass council, suggested that it might be possible to get the functional equivalent of embryonic stem cells from artificially-created teratomas. In nature, teratomas are the result of defective fertilizations. They are biological entities that have some of the properties of embryos, but are not living organisms.
Ponnuru realizes that there are still some moral and ethical questions about each proposal. He also addresses the fears of those pro-life champions of adult stem-cell research, many of whom have staked much of their argument on the "dead-end" that is embryonic stem cell research. Simply put, they should not reject these two new proposals out of hand because of fear of losing political power. According to Ponnuru, they should remember their priorities.
If the underlying point of the adult stem-cell argument has been to say that it may be possible to derive scientific benefits without killing human embryos, then the Hurlbut proposal strengthens that case.

If, on the other hand, the argument is that embryonic stem-cell research doesn't have much potential and that this lack of potential is an independent reason to restrict it, then the argument deserves to fail. If a line of research isn't morally objectionable, whether it is likely to succeed or not should have no bearing on whether it is allowed. We should prohibit cloning for research because it involves the injustice of killing cloned human embryos. Where there is no injustice, there is no reason to prohibit research.
To be sure, Ponnuru recognizes that there are some who dislike either approach because they desire unfettered embryonic research. As such, they don't want to be seen as capitulating to religious sensitivies. Ponnuru believes that these proposals deserve to be developed and pursued by using animals as test subjects. I agree.

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