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Friday, 10.29.04: Stem Cells

The magazines talk about 3 "wedge" issues this year: abortion, gay marriage, and embryonic stem cell research. The first two seem like such private matters, perhaps in the domain of religion but something the federal government should keep out of.

But I have trouble with figuring out what's wrong with embryonic stem cell research (and the therapeutic cloning it's often linked to). You might believe that life begins at conception, but there are thousands and thousands of "lives" in the deep freezers of in vitrio labs. Their only chance of ever actually "living" is in the redirection of their stem cells into other beings. Otherwise, their little souls are trapped forever in the darkness -- surely a fate worse than limbo.*

I get the sense of foreboding from those who oppose stem cell research. One of those "genie out of the bottle" moments. But the scientific and medical establishments tend to take the development of ethical codes and practice standards very seriously. Often there are government regulations that set the rules. (But I think our government has lost its ability to work with fine instruments -- they deregulate totally or they demand constitutional amendments.)

The genie is already out of the bottle, of course. Aren't there stories of parents who have additional children hoping for a tissue match with a child who has leukemia or other dread disease? Which path has more potential for cruelty: therapeutic siblings or therapeutic cloning for stem cells?

Aren't there stories of parents screening their Petri dish cells for sex? Won't DNA research give them even more opportunity for designer babies? Do we need to ban DNA research next?

And why isn't continued U.S. development of nuclear weapons a wedge issue? Talk about your genies...

Of course, stem cell research will continue. States like California are likely to authorize big investments. But if religious fanatics figure out how to block those efforts, other countries will carry on. And as our country sinks deeper into its religious dark age, we'll experience our own brain drain of biological scientists who will be welcome in Europe or Asia.

I'm mystified.



*limbo: in Catholic theology, where unbaptized baby souls go. All the perks of heaven, but unable to see the face of God.

If the Church simply adjusted their ritual to be able to baptize the unborn, the souls could get the full heavenly package... and what could be wrong with that?


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