Saturday, January 06, 2007

2007: The Year Stem Cell Research Finally Gets to Move Forward in America?

With Democrats now in control of Congress, I seriously hope that the US federal government will finally give stem cell research the funding it needs to get America caught up with the rest of the world. It’s amazing that the only veto President Bush has used during his time in office (the lack of vetoes also shows the frightening control Bush had over Congress) was one against the single most promising line of medical research in recent history. The funny part is that several states including California, Massachusetts, and Connecticut have bypassed Bush’s decision and have funded stem cell research on their own. Furthermore, countries like South Korea have already pushed ahead with stem cell research, threatening to leave us far behind. Whether Bush wants it or not, stem cell research will occur somewhere in the world. Of course, he doesn’t seem to worry about that since he clearly thinks God will protect America no matter what we do. However, now that funding for stem cell research will certainly be up for vote once again this year, and the Democrats could gain enough votes to override a veto, I thought I’d share a couple of my thoughts on this controversial and divisive issue.

The main argument that conservative Christians use against stem cell research is that it kills babies since it requires the destruction of a human blastocyst, a clump of 100 undifferentiated cells formed shortly after an egg has been fertilized. Conservative Christians believe the soul enters the blastocyst at the moment of fertilization, and, therefore, constitutes a human life. Unfortunately for opponents of stem cell research, there’s no scientific evidence that a soul exists. It’s no different that the Intelligent Design argument. It’s the use of a religious belief with scientific-sounding language. It might sound good, but it’s not science at all.

One rediculous argument I've heard against stem cell research is that scientists abort pegnancies to obtain the blastocysts from stem cell research! Not only is that completely wrong, but it sounds like nothing more than propoganda to scare fundamentalist Christians into opposing stem cell research. Scientists don't get stem cells from pregnant women. They get them from balstocysts left over at fertility clinics. If not used, these blatocysts would literally be thrown away. If conservative Christians are so concerned about the welfare and survival of these blastocysts, why don't they protest fertility clinics for killing all those unborn "babies" or try to save those "babies" from the garbage?

As far as I’m concerned, an embryo does not represent human life until it has enough of a central nervous system and consciousness to have a human experience. A blastocyst doesn’t even have nerve cells, so it cannot have a human experience, much less feel pain. To think otherwise shows a willful appeal to ignorance on the subject.

Besides, as Sam Harris pointed out, shouldn’t we stop caring so much about something that has no nervous system and actually try and reduce suffering in beings that have a fully developed central nervous system?

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