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August 04, 2005

Ethical Sources of Embryonic Stem Cells

Clayton Cramer has come up with an idea for a source of hundreds of thousands of embryonic stem cells every year, without the ethical issues.

There are several sources of embryonic stem cells, however, that provide no ethical problems: non-elective abortions; miscarriages; and deaths of pregnant women. Ectopic pregnancies are one example of a non-elective abortion, and even the Catholic Church recognizes that this is legitimate. Since there are about 100,000 ectopic pregnancies a year, this is a vast number of sources of embryonic stem cells.

Miscarriages also produce embryonic tissue--and since a miscarriage is not an intentional act of killing the embryo, there is no ethical problem is using this tissue for research. I couldn't find a figure for the number of miscarriages annually, but I would be surprised if it isn't in the hundreds of thousands.

At any given time, there are hundreds of thousands of American women who are pregnant. Unsurprisingly, there are on any day hundreds of pregnant women who are killed in car accidents, murders, falls from ladders, or other circumstances where the embryo or fetus can't be saved. These are also legitimate sources of embryonic stem cells.

(Comments below the fold...)

The third item is a little morbid, but no less a viable source. As much as I've come out against embryonic stem cell research as "human experimentation", I have to admit that these ideas do have merit. As opposed to IVF embryos or abortions, there is no actual choice involved; nature has already taken its course. I consider all these cases a loss of life, but not one where any blame or culpability can typically be assigned. We do have a big source of embryonic stem cells. Is the scientific community willing to work with it?

Clayton does end his post with a reasonable caution.

I can see why some might be concerned about where embryonic stem cell research might take us. For example, imagine that the scientists doing this research find a way to fulfill all the promises that Al Gore and John Edwards made last year: a cure of paralysis; for cancer; for Alzheimer's--in short, the miracle cure. Would this lead to an increase in demand for embryonic stem cells? It certainly would, and I could see a serious debate about whether to use aborted embryos and fetuses in making this miracle cure. I would come down against this--but that isn't the question before us right now. We do have an ethical source for embryonic stem cells for research purposes.

Posted by Doug at August 4, 2005 04:29 PM

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I've never commented on your site, but I've been reading it for a few months. Figured I'd chime in on this one.

These ideas make perfect sense to me and they seem acceptable to me from a Christian/moral viewpoint. Sadly, I don't think those who want embryonic stem cell research (ESCR) would settle for this, though. They want the whole kit and kaboodle. They want full access to any and all stem cells and fetuses they can get their hands on. I think they want this so that, when we (as believers) resist, they can refer to us the right-wing theocratic, Bible-thumping, American taliban. I just don't think we're dealing with reasonable or civil people in the pro-ESCR camp.

I know that sounds very cynical, but the shrill and abominable rhetoric I hear lately makes me think that I'm right.

I hope I'm wrong. I hope there are reasonable people out there. And if there are, I pray that there voices can be heard over the loud minority of Christian-haters on the left.

Posted by: Mike_Atl at August 5, 2005 12:09 AM

Oops. I meant "their", not "there" in the post above. I hate when people make that mistake -- and I just did it myself.

Posted by: Mike_Atl at August 5, 2005 12:12 AM

Doug, I saw this too (I like Clayton's blog) and also blogged about it. There's one big problem with any of Clayton's well-considered suggestions (and believe me, I wish there wasn't); apparently, there's a narrow developmental window, very early in the process, when stem cells can be used. And in almost all of his alternatives, that point would have come and gone in most cases by the time the situation presents itself.

Posted by: Mona at August 5, 2005 04:02 AM

That's truly a bummer if there's really no way to use them. I've asked Clayton if he's got any more info on this that would make that option more viable.

Posted by: Doug Payton at August 5, 2005 10:58 AM

Via Instapundit, comes a link to this article about getting stem cells from the placenta saved after childbirth. It's just a possibility at this point, but it does sound promising.

Posted by: Doug Payton at August 5, 2005 03:55 PM

Clayton's follow-up post is here.

Posted by: Doug Payton at August 8, 2005 01:59 PM