Never Enough

Scientists have figured out how to extract stem cells from blastocysts without killing the blastocyst, says Nicholas Wade in the New York Times.

The new technique would be performed on a two-day-old embryo, after the fertilized egg has divided into eight cells, known as blastomeres. In fertility clinics, where the embryo is available outside the woman in the normal course of in vitro fertilization, one of these blastomeres can be removed for diagnostic tests, like for Down syndrome.

The embryo, now with seven cells, can be implanted in the woman if no defect is found. Many such embryos have grown into apparently healthy babies over the 10 years or so the diagnostic tests have been used. …

…“By growing the biopsied cell overnight,” he said, “the resulting cells could be used for both P.G.D. and the generation of stem cells without affecting the subsequent chances of having a child.”

Great breakthrough, huh? Now researchers can get all the embryonic stem cells they could ask for without killing blastocysts. But it looks like the scientists needn’t have bothered.

But the new method, reported yesterday by researchers at Advanced Cell Technology on the Web site of the journal Nature, had little immediate effect on longstanding objections of the White House and some Congressional leaders yesterday. It also brought objections from critics who warned of possible risk to the embryo and the in vitro fertilization procedure itself, in which embryos are generated from a couple’s egg and sperm.

Um, but it says the blastomeres were being removed anyway, doesn’t it?

Emily Lawrimore, a White House spokeswoman, suggested that the new procedure would not satisfy the objections of Mr. Bush, who vetoed legislation in July that would have expanded federally financed embryonic stem cell research. Though Ms. Lawrimore called it encouraging that scientists were moving away from destroying embryos, she said: “Any use of human embryos for research purposes raises serious ethical questions. This technique does not resolve those concerns.”

What ethical questions? Do they want the blastocyst to sign a consent form?

“Embryos cannot give consent and the people they could become will obviously have had no say on whether cells should have been removed. Even if they are not destroying the embryo they are still putting it at some risk.

“A lot of these researchers make claims which are later disproved or turn out not to be as they promised, so we will have to wait and see if it really is as it seems.”

The Los Angeles Times explains:

What could possibly be the objection? The National Catholic Bioethics Center has two, for starters. One is that the extracted cell has the potential to develop into an embryo. Never mind that those extracted cells aren’t now developed into embryos when extracted for genetic testing or other uses.

The other is that the embryo is undergoing a medical procedure — the extraction of one cell — not for its own benefit but for the cause of science. If the cell can also be used for genetic testing, however, it is being used for that embryo’s benefit. And even if it is not, there are many other procedures — organ donation, for example — that do not benefit the host but are nonetheless viewed not only as acceptable but as moral.


President Bush offered little encouragement Wednesday and, if anything, raised the bar higher, suggesting he would not be comfortable unless embryos were not involved at all.

Well, we don’t want to make the President uncomfortable, do we?

Social conservatives already have begun complaining that the new technique falls short. They say the method does injure nascent embryos, and they question whether the cell that is removed from an embryo has the potential to develop on its own.

There’s no point trying to appease, reason, or compromise with the Fetus People. Say the words “embryonic stem cell” to them, and their warped little brains promptly go to work manufacturing new reasons why embryonic stem cells are bad. Unfortunately we’re all being held hostage by their ersatz “morality.”

15 thoughts on “Never Enough

  1. I can understand wanting some long-term studies on how the kids with one less cell turn out. There have been a lot of medical techniques that look good in the first roseate glow, but turn out to be not qute as lovely as we thought. But if the kids turn out pretty much how they were going to regardless of the cell, jeez, what’s the problem? I think the conservatives ought to be jumping up and down for joy that they get their cures for Alzheimers and babies continue to be born. (From their point of view.)

  2. …there is no sense in spending any more time either on debate or clever research to try to appease the anti-abortion forces that are powering the opposition to this research. The day of federally-funded embryonic stem cell research will dawn when we have the congressional majorities to make it so (control of the White House would be nice, too). This very likely has a direct bearing on the quality of my son’s life, but there is neither argument or embryonic manipulation that will sway them…

  3. I can understand wanting some long-term studies on how the kids with one less cell turn out.

    They’ve been doing this for ten years, one article says. Also I suspect that whatever was removed is quickly replicated, so the kids aren’t missing anything.

  4. a) The one cell could never develop into a new organism. Scientists have been trying to do exactly that for many decades now, and they’ve never managed to do it with ANYTHING, rats, mice, worms, nothing. So that objection is baseless.
    b) These cells are NOT being taken “for the cause of science” … it is a legitimate diagnostic technique that has been in use for more than 10 years, with more than 2000 children born after having such a test. These tests WILL happen, whether or not anything is done … science is just saying we take the single cell, wait overnight for it to divide, then use the original cell for the test, and the divided cell for research purposes. It even has a lot of benefit for the potential child involved … this is done, when they grow up, there is a stem cell line out there which is essentially a clone of their own tissue, which means absolute genetic match, which means no rejection issues. So that objection is baseless.

    It truly surprises me that the white house is unhappy with this. It seems ethically bulletproof to me, I thought the admin would leap at the chance to get onboard with this popular new technology, while at the same time insisting that if they hadn’t held firm on the no research thing, this innovate technique would never have been developed … win-win … why on earth are they still opposing it???


  5. It’s just a continuation of the Republican war on science. They can’t be appeased. No matter what we do, objections will be found. Because, as Gary Trudeau pointed out, Bush hears the cries of the blastocysts. (But not of actual humans. As with most right to lifers, his concern with life begins at conception and ends at birth.)

    From the NYT today–evolutionary biology has mysteriously “vanished from the list of acceptable fields of study for recipients of a federal education grant for low-income college students.” No one at the Department of Education can explain this. Must be and act of god!

  6. Some of the “anti” quotes are so convoluted and speculative (i.e., not based in even the tinest shred of actuality), that they reveal the bottom line: the Fetus People are nuts. Completely friggin nuts.

    This is just one more thing, like the Terri Schiavo tragedy, that’s gonna swell the pro-choice ranks. “Hmm, I can either believe three insane things before breakfast, or respect the consciences of others. What should I do?”

  7. Maybe this is a good argument for intellectuals in government (re: the previous post about anti-intellectualism). People who don’t know science should not be allowed to make decisions on science policy, particularly if they are just going to make random pronouncements based on their own speculations and not on, you know, the science. Inhofe will be drowning in the water from the melted ice caps and still will be proclaiming that global warming is a hoax.

    And if that Times article about evolutionary biology is true, then we’re all in trouble.

  8. You’re right, will never be enough. What it boils down to is who gets to define God, and the stem cells are just the current football.

  9. Some of the negative reaction from the right is pretty well justified. These results were announced with a lot of fanfare, as providing a way to produce embryonic stem cells without destroying embryos. Yet, they actually destroyed a large number of embryos in the course of the research. Perhaps they *could have* produced embryonic stem cells without killing the embryos—we actually don’t know, because they didn’t think it was important to try. If they perfect a technique by killing many embryos, in order to, one day, perhaps produce stem cells without killing the specific embryos that those future stem cells come from (this remains to be done), isn’t it still a legitimate moral concern that the research to develop the capability involved killing many embryos? Would we be happy with a transplant technique used in humans that required fatal experiments on many people before we developed the capability to take organs from future subjects without harming them?

  10. David — I say it’s immoral NOT to go ahead with embryonic stem cell research, and I say we should stop even trying to placate the Fetus People with the new procedure. Stopping research that might relieve suffering for countless people because some people are ignorant about the nature of life and being is inexcusable.

    I did a three-part series on embryonic stem cell research awhile back, called “People with One Watch.” Click to read Part One, Part Two, Part Three. (Part One is not specifically about stem cells, so you might want to skip to Part Two.) For why the entire “when does life begin” question is irrelevant, see this post.

  11. Yes, it’s very consistent to believe that we should do embryonic stem cell research regardless of whether we destroy embryos. And that was obviously the opinion of the researchers who published this study (since they didn’t mind at all destroying lots of embryos). My point is only that, if you accept that there are people who do object to destroying embryos for research, it’s very easy to understand why they wouldn’t be placated at all by this published work.

    This is a response to your posting above where you express surprise and puzzlement that those who object to embryo destruction aren’t pleased or satisfied by this new research. The question of whether they should care about embryo destruction at all is a different one, which we’re unlikely to settle here.

  12. My point is only that, if you accept that there are people who do object to destroying embryos for research, it’s very easy to understand why they wouldn’t be placated at all by this published work.

    That’s not an objection they raised, however. Maybe they’ve thought it up now. But it was obvious to me that their initial reaction was just knee-jerk “no embryonic stem cell research,” period.

    The question of whether they should care about embryo destruction at all is a different one, which we’re unlikely to settle here.

    Individuals care about all sorts of issues that don’t register as important to most people. I’ve seen people get worked up into a lather about someone in the neighborhood painting his house powder blue instead of an earth color, for example. Once I overheard a heated argument over whether people being baptised in rivers should be facing upstream or downstream. Whether these individuals should or should not care about these matters is something they have to work out for themselves. It’s up to you to decide what you want going on in your own head.

    However, we’re in a situation in which a minority of citizens who oppose stem cell research based on some sick perversion of morality are holding the rest of us hostage to their twisted belief systems. THAT, sir, is the issue. There is no placating these people, and so there is no point trying to compromise or reason with them.

  13. I have certainly heard “them” raise this objection; that’s why I brought it up here.

    You’re completely wrong that their morality is “sick” or “perverted”. There’s no point in discussing that with you, though.

    And they certainly aren’t holding your “hostage”. They haven’t passed any laws against such experimentation; you can do it all you like.

  14. You’re completely wrong that their morality is “sick” or “perverted”.

    It is, and I explained why in one of the posts I linked that you didn’t read.

    They haven’t passed any laws against such experimentation; you can do it all you like.

    No it cannot, also explained in one of the posts I linked that you didn’t read.

    Now take yourself and your diseased mind somewhere else.

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