Monday, March 05, 2007

Stem cell research - cultural wars continued


You will probably know of the never-ending ideological battles between pro-lifers and the rest of us. Main bone of contention is the moral status of embryos. Particularly viciously fought over was (well, is) the issue of embryonic stem cell research. For better or worse, embryonic stem cell research requires the extraction of embryonic stem cells around 10-14 days after conception. The embryos are destroyed in this process, much to the chagrin of pro-lifers. The cell accumulation they're concerned about has, of course, no central nervous system, no brain, no capacity to suffer, nothing in other words that would justify ascribing moral status to such embryos.
Comes scientific research 'demonstrating' that the same kind of therapeutic stem cell research can be undertaken without the destruction of embryos. In fact, so claims the research by Dr Catherine Verfaillie, we should also be able to use adult stem cells. Of course, if you can avoid fighting over nothing (with pro-lifers and others), that's what you should aim for. So, even if one subscribes to the view that the embryos in question do not deserve moral status of any kind, one should be relieved to see that valuable research can continue while cultural wars over moral standing can be avoided altogether by using adult stem cells.
Dr Verfaillie (that time of University of Minnesota affiliation) published her work in the prestigious peer reviewed journal NATURE. It has since turned out to be the case that some of the data she published was significantly flawed. Quite possibly her conclousions might not be sustainable in light of the serious mistakes she made. Perhaps, in light of the cultural wars just mentioned, it is not that insignificant that Dr Verfaillie since moved on to a Catholic university in Europe.
In case you're interested in good background information on stem cell research, check out this site at the US National Institutes of Health.

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