Category: Opinion

Opinion letters
by Various Authors

The object is to provide a larger forum than can be possible via the newspaper opinion pages where a limit of 300 words precludes much thoughtful response.

Articles are numbered 1,2,3...etc.
Letters in response are labeled 1-a,1-b, ...etc.
Send letters via e-mail to 1,000 word limit.
1a Pres.Clinton pardons Puertorican terrorists

Stem-cells and Life
by Richard R. Tryon
July 15, 2001

The current controversy about the status of human stem-cells and the blastocysts made in a petrie dish by mixing sperms and an egg to get them is mostly a semantic problem of definitions. But it is also an emotional problem that requires clear thinking to avoid unfortunate errors.

Most people in the U.S. have no problem understanding that science can take human sperms and eggs and mix them in a petrie dish to so that the egg is fertilized. Most can also accept that all eggs in nature can be mechanically stimulated into using the material inside the egg to start the cell division process. They also know that some, in religious settings, don’t seem to know that such initial evidence of ‘life’ will not continue unless the growing mass of cells can attach itself to a life support system.

Farmers and housewives both see potatoes sprout, but unless the sprout can take root to a source of nutriment, the life support energy of the potato soon rots away. Human eggs are no different except that they can’t start the initial process until a mass of human sperms can die to soften the egg’s shell and let one of their number penetrate the egg to trigger the conception process.

However, the human combination of egg and sperm is not one that comes to meaningful life at the moment of conception anymore than is the case with the rest of nature. To call the point of conception the beginning of life is to say that the eggs and sperms were therefore dead! We don’t make life out of dead sperms and eggs! They too are living material. Joining them together triggers the initial ability of the egg to start growing while it develops the ability to attach itself to the wall of a uterine lining that is able to help by providing both the means of obtaining energy and of extracting waste for some nine months on average before that egg is formed to the point where it can continue growing outside of the womb.

Those in favor of so called ‘right to life’, who claim that such begin with conception, either choose to ignore that the eggs and sperms were not dead, but also living material, so as to avoid arguing that every sperm has a right to life too; or they fear that the essence of human life- the soul- is so precious to God that they do not choose to risk the idea that the soul is not present at conception. Considering that almost half of all such conceptions never find the needed attachment and die even without our knowing of their existence, it is hard to sense that God chooses to Will us to conception of something precious to Him, but then lets it fail to attach even to a willing would be mother’s uterus!

Some religious leaders, including many males who vow not to use their sperms to procreate, contend that they need to make conception the defining point of life to avoid the idea that science can or should interfere with the natural process of nature.
While they may really fear some ‘slippery slope’ leading to man’s interference in ways that could or would offend the Will of God, they run into a strong force of those who see aiding conception or of curing illness and disease as a noble acts of man for which harvesting stem-cells doesn’t seem to be blasphemous or counter-productive to the goals of society.

The real problem here is that both Catholic and Protestant fundamentalism gets in the way. Unfortunately both depend upon the word of God as recorded from 2-5 thousand years ago by writers that knew nothing about what we describe here. Nor did their readers! Clearly, the clerics need some new Revelations to get up to date on this and perhaps a few other issues.

Here is an earlier article than the one that inspired the above words. It helps provide more background information.

If You Believe Embryos Are Humans...
...then curbing research on stem cells is an odd place to start protecting them

Sunday, Jun. 17, 2001
President Bush is said to be hoping for a compromise on whether to allow federally funded medical research on cells from human embryos. Compromise is a worthy goal. But on this issue, the notion of compromise is an odd one for a couple of reasons.

First, the Clinton Administration's rules that Bush has suspended while he searches for a compromise are
themselves a compromise. They forbid federally funded
researchers to destroy human embryos, but they allow the use
of stem cells from embryos destroyed by others. What Bush
wants is a compromise of a compromise.

Second, the argument for banning this research depends on absolutism. It's not just that people who oppose research using embryos feel strongly about it. It's that the entire logic of their case makes it hard to give them anything they would value as half a loaf.

To justify standing in the way of cures for some of humanity's most dreaded diseases, you have to accept the right-to-life argument in its most extreme form. We're talking here about newly formed embryos. These are not fetuses with tiny, waving hands and feet. These are microscopic groupings of a few differentiated cells. There is nothing human about them, except potential--and, if you choose to believe it, a soul.
Moreover, under the rules Bush is blocking, stem-cell research would not actually take the life of a single embryo Researchers would use embryos that are being discarded

To anyone who actually believes that new embryos are just as human as you or me, this last point is like saying, "Well, the Holocaust is going on anyway, so we might as well turn a few dead Jews into lampshades." Accommodating to evil is evil. But if this is your line, you had better really, really believe that discarding embryos is just like gassing Jews. That's because if you get your way, then real, fully formed people will suffer and die for your abstract point of principle. In fact, real people will suffer and die as a result of any compromise that partly accommodates your abstract principle. For that matter, real people will suffer and die because of the months every breakthrough has been delayed while Bush looks for a compromise. And because of Clinton's compromise. And because of all the years federal stem-cell research was banned before that.

Even if the recently discovered adult stem cells turn out to be almost as good as embryonic ones, which many politicians are hoping will spare them a tough decision, that "almost" will lead to unnecessary suffering and death if adult cells become an excuse to restrict embryonic ones. So, if that's what you thinkjustice for embryos requires, you had better be sure you're right.

Are we really going to start basing social policy on the assumption that a few embryonic cells equal a human being? If so, restricting research on discarded embryos is an odd place to start. Why not restrict fertility clinics, which routinely produce more embryos than they need and destroy the surplus? To pursue the gruesome Holocaust analogy, it's like outlawing the lampshades while ignoring the gas chambers. And yet President Bush is not searching for compromise on the issue of fertility clinics because there is no such issue. The Roman Catholic Church and others are publicly opposed to high-tech fertilization techniques, but they are not beating the drum about it.

And fertility clinics are not the only place where embryos are routinely destroyed in the course of making a baby. Every year, in the U.S. alone, nature (or God) kills hundreds of thousands of embryos so young that the bearer didn't even know she was pregnant. About 15% of pregnancies end in miscarriage, most of them in the embryo stage. Although there is research going on to reduce miscarriages for the sake of would-be mothers, there is no big crusade to save the lives of these lost embryos. Why not?

Contrast this widespread tolerance, if not acceptance, of the mass slaughter of embryos, even among right-to-lifers, with the huge fuss that antiabortion forces have stirred up over the relatively rare practice they insist on calling partial-birth abortions. This campaign emphasizes how recognizably human end-of-term fetuses are. The explicit or implicit argument is that these physical human qualities are at least part of what makes late-term abortions as morally objectionable as killing a postbirth human being. Either this argument is utterly disingenuous or the corollary must be that destruction of a newly conceived embryo is morally less objectionable.

If stem-cell research is banned or limited on the principle that just-conceived embryos have rights just like the rest of us, that will be a principle applied almost nowhere else. It's a principle that few people actually believe in and one that almost nobody--not even sincere right-to-lifers--really lives by.



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