Saturday, June 30, 2007

The Wager

MissionTerritory as an interesting post on embryonic stem cell research. Unlike most people talking about the subject, he is a biochemist who actually understands many of the details from a technical point of view. Honestly, the most interesting part of his post to me was the reference to the violinist argument and the contrast of certain differences between abortion and stem cell research.



Kevin said...

I'm short on time at the moment, or else I might comment on Pascal's wager, the Violinist analogies, etc., but I'm curious whether you consider the creation of embryonic cells from skin cells to be immoral?

Should such embryonic cells somehow be developed into an embryo and implanted and given "the chance to develop fully"? Does that (albeit theoretical) possibility impact the morality of creating and otherwise using those embryonic cells?


Edmund C. said...

MB, thanks for the link.

Kevin, let me take a quick stab at your questions. I'll apologize now if I don't reply quickly to any discussion: I'm going to be putting in 80+ hr work weeks for the next few months.

Several points come to mind with respect to the morality of the creation of embryonic stem cells from skin cells:

No one's been able to do this with human cells--yet. It's technically much more difficult, for any number of reasons that I don't fully understand. But, it's certainly feasible. Assuming that researchers will be able to do this with human cells:

If these cells are truly functionally equivalent to embryonic stem cells (that is, they can form an embryo), then it is morally problematic. In my mind, it's equivalent to "human cloning", since it is producing something akin to a fertilized egg.

If we can create cells outside of the "natural" means of procreation that could develop into human beings, that is, at least from the Catholic perspective, intrinsically wrong. It's almost the inverse of the current issues with embryonic stem cells where they are created by the destruction of human embryos. Instead of making cell lines by destroying lives, we're creating "life" ex nihilo. That's way to close to "playing God" for me.

All these abstract moral issues make me wonder whether we should be supporting any type of embryonic (or similar) stem cell research that could lead to the creation of artificial human life.

Kevin said...

Hi Edmund,

Thanks for responding, and welcome to our merry blog. :)

I can see the attractiveness of trying to avoid that moral dilemma, but just how distant a potential human should we avoid creating?

In a sense, my curiosity actually stems from the fact that we are not creating life "ex nihilo," but rather from other living cells ("ex vivo"?). i.e. Cells which have the potential to become a fully developed human, albeit with varying degrees of intervention.

For example, my understanding is that embryonic stem cells (ESC) are not totipotent, meaning that, unlike a fertilized egg, they cannot differentiate into the extra-embryonic cells of the membrane and placenta which are necessary for implantation.

You seem to advocate intervention to some degree by suggesting that any in vitro fertilized egg should be implanted.

Does this obligation to implant extend to miscarried embryos? Should we make every attempt to capture miscarried embryos and re-implant them, just as we would attempt to save a more developed human being who is falling to his death?

P.S. Wow, that's quite a heavy work schedule. Please take your time in responding. I should notice future renewal of this discussion in the "Active Discussions" side panel.