Sunday, July 23, 2006

Embryonic Stem Cells and Abortion(?)

(I wrote this as a comment on another thread but feel it adequetely gets across my point. I have another piece on this topic that I'll upload whenever I finish it.)

One of the problems we run into with this debate is conflating it and its ethical dilemmas with abortion, even though the two are not alike. Logically, one can still consider oneself Pro-Life on abortion and also support federal funding of ESC research, and I wish scientists would say it more often.

Take a look:

Fetal Development

Abortions normally take place within the 1st trimester, or first 13 weeks of a pregnancy. The embryo is developing at this stage, implanted in the uterus, growing with the help of nutrients supplied by its mother. Having an abortion is normally the mother’s choice and results in termination of the pregnancy and little other effect on society. However this influences your stance on abortion, it really has no bearing on the topic at hand.

ESCs are taken from extra 5-day-old embryos artificially fertilized in a laboratory by the wishes of the aspiring parents. Markedly early in development, the embryo numbers about 100 cells (compare that to the 10,000,000,000,000 cells in an adult). At this stage in the natural female body this bundle of cells has not even reached the uterus, the mother’s womb, where fertilized eggs have to initially implant for a pregnancy to even begin, as is the medical consensus. Thus one may argue that abortion is unethical because gestation has without a doubt occurred, but will equivocate about how a 5-day-old embryo is technically still almost a beaming baby boy, even when the medical community begs to differ. Framing the debate with this in mind would assist more Americans in keeping an open mind to the logistics and implications of ESC research.

Pro-Life or Pro-Choice, those who feel morally obligated to interfere with scientific research into ESCs because of a doctrine that life beings at the onset of fertilization should also be calling on a ban of oral contraception, but you can imagine how well this political stand would hold up. To clarify, withholding federal funds from a normally federally-funded entity that relies excessively on these funds constitutes a ban on that entity. Cut this funding out from the rest of our research programs and you'd see our pursuit of scientific and technological breakthroughs quickly come to a halt.

The fact that ESC research—or any scientific research, for that matter—needs to be funded by the government is evident by the benefits it gives to society. Scientific and technological advances provide cures for diseases, prolonged health into old age, and knowledge about the physical world around us. Everyone partakes of these benefits, making it a good reason our tax dollars should be footing the bill. Should highways, education, and domestic security also be funded by private donors?

And as already mentioned before, vetoing federal funding is pretty much the same thing as vetoing the entire project, which is a disillusioning thought. Scientists (real ones, with an honest interest in the subject rather than politics) are very enthusiastic about the possibilities with ESC, and with even a limited knowledge of what ESCs are and what they can be used for—which aside from the usual tissue repair reasoning, include giving some critical information about cell developmental biology and help with understanding the mechanisms of cancers and genetic disorders— it’s difficult to find them so morally corrupting.

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