Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Stem Cell Television Commercials on the Air in Missouri

The Missouri Coalition for Lifesaving Cures is airing pro-cloning research television commercials. This is an unprecedented effort—airing commercials for a petition drive. This petition would place a constitutional amendment on the ballot in November 2006. This effort is an ongoing part of the culture war, and assumes a new meaning of "human life".

  • One commercial features former Senator and Episcopalian priest John Danforth. He says that he always voted pro-life and that he supports this initiative. Sen. Danforth is now a great disappointment to many pro-lifers, for he always seemed to be a man of principle. Other politicians, in contrast, are quite crass in 'doing it for the money' promised by biotechnology companies.

  • The other commercial states that stem cells could provide cures for diabetes, Parkinson's, ALS, cancer, heart disease and spinal cord injury. It displays text that reads: "Some politicians in Jefferson City want to ban stem cell research and cures in Missouri": however, in the audio portion it says "important types of stem cell research", which is more accurate; they only want to ban embryonic stem cell research, not stem cell research in general.

Stem cells are able to change into various other types of organ cells, such as blood cells, heart cells, liver cells, etc. Bone marrow therapy is the oldest known stem cell treatment; where stem cells are extracted from a person and then added back into the body after leukemia treatment. This is usually effective. Recently, it has been determined that a patient's own stem cells can be coaxed into forming bone and heart cells for treating bone cancer and heart damage. Juvenile diabetes has been cured in mice using their own stem cells.

Until recently it was assumed that 'adult' stem cells—which includes those taken from discarded umbilical cords and baby teeth—could only be coaxed into transforming into a limited range of tissue types. This led to fetal stem cell research, where stem cells were taken from aborted babies; it is well-known that these stem cells can become any cell type in the body. Fetal stem cells were used unsuccessfully in treatment, leading to tumors and inappropriate cell types; also, since these cells were genetically different from the patient, there was also immune rejection.

This current ballot initiative wants to legalize and fund the research of therapeutic cloning. This type of therapy would create embryos, clones of the patient, from which fetal stem cells can be extracted and used for treatment. This would greatly reduce or eliminate immune rejection in the patient.

Although technically this is already cloning, the initiative would prevent "reproductive" cloning; that is, creating an identical twin of the patient, and implanting it in a uterus leading to pregnancy and birth. Initiative supporters make the strange assertion that a fetus created though natural fertilization is human, while if created through cloning is not. "Dolly the sheep" was not really a sheep? Baaaa!

Fetal stem-cell research will kill fetuses, or humans in an early state of development. It will also require vast numbers of donor eggs from young women, which puts them at risk of danger to health and exploitation in this new and bizarre form of prostitution.

We must have pity on those who suffer from diseases and who hope that new therapies will bring them back to health. The pro-cloning forces are using feeling and emotion in their campaign, more than right reason. This feeling can get out of control: one man, testifying before the Missouri Senate, admitted that he would be willing to kill a young girl—his own daughter's age—if that would ensure that his own daughter would be cured of her disease.

The pro-life view is that adult stem-cell research is laudatory and should be encouraged. Fetal stem-cell research is likewise immoral and should be discouraged.

At the core of all life issues is the definition of human life and personhood. The pro-life view generally holds personhood and human life to be identical, and that a fetus is just a person and human at an early state of development. This is similar to the idea that an acorn is a oak, but just not a fully developed one. Modern ideas, perhaps best formed in the writings of Peter Singer, hold that not all humans are persons, and that not all persons are human. In this theory, an infant or a person in a coma may be a human, but not a person; likewise an ape, alien life form, or intelligent computer program may be a person but not a human. Personhood is then left up to the decision of a court, ethics committee, or government edict, instead of the simple and reasonable equality of humans and persons, under all conditions and states of development.

The traditional philosophy has an objective view of human life, a view that does not depend on internal mental states. The modern philosophy is based on subjectivism and relativism. According to the new theory, a 'person' is a moral agent who is capable of making moral choices and holding values, and who is held in value by other persons. This clearly can exclude many classes of humans from personhood, such as children until the age of reason (seven or eight years of age), and logically, even humans that are asleep. More troubling, a person may be mentally healthy, but because of defects or handicaps, may be valued less as a person. Also, the genocides of the 20th century may be justifiable under this theory due to the loss of personhood: these people were not held in value by others.

The modern philosophical argument eventually ends up being just an argument in favor of the strong against the weak. The initiative is funded and supported by wealthy biotechnology companies, and will be supported by tax dollars from the state. The least powerful among us, tiny infants, will be routinely killed as part of the research. Large numbers of women, probably from poor countries, will be used for donor eggs. The worst problem is its view of human life as something expendable for the cause of progress.

Unless a miracle occurs, the initiative will probably pass. We need to convert ourselves before we can hope of converting society.

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