Crime or compassion?

http://www.nature.com/news/2011/111005/full/news.2011.578.html?WT.ec_id=NATURENEWSBREAKING

This link to Nature News is authoritative, in that the original full report did appear in the Nature periodical. As it happens the work described has not been successful in producing the embryonic stem cells desired.

We are left with a fuller understanding of the extent of the work currently being done on the production of embryonic stem cells. How do we feel about its relationship to human dignity?

Is it ironic or just happenstance that adult stem cells have produced several effective therapies while their embryo counterparts are distinguished by their lack of therapeutic success? (note the link to a caveat on iPS cells in the Nature article) Is the view that scientists in the embryonic field are concerned to keep hopes up in order to ensure that their grants continue simply a cynical debating point, or does the view have substance?

A comprehensive moral commentary on this work has now been published by Zenit. It is well worth reading. The link is at http://www.zenit.org/article-33627?l=english

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About Quentin

Science Editor, Catholic Herald. Portrait © Jacqueline Alma
This entry was posted in Bio-ethics, Church and Society, Moral judgment. Bookmark the permalink.

16 Responses to Crime or compassion?

  1. claret says:

    On yesterdays TV news there was a feature of a Doctor in Spain who had successfully replaced a wind pipe on a female patient by using her own stem cells to ensure that the body did not reject the new windpipe.
    Regretably I may be a bit hazy with the all the facts and the TV item did not raise any questions about ethics ( I assume there were none in this procedure.) The doctor was versed in stem cell research but it was not made clear if he promoted stem cells from other sources.

  2. Research of any kind using aborted embryos is aborrent to me and to all God-fearing Catholics the world over.

  3. Horace says:

    Here is a link to another discussion of this subject which may be of interest:-

  4. Horace says:

    Sorry the link got lost!
    Here is a link to another discussion of this subject which may be of interest:-
    http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/embryonic-cloning-experiment-blasted-by-ethicists-scientists/

    • Quentin says:

      Horace, thank you for this. It’s the first extended commentary on the moral issues which I have seen. I would be interested know how Second Sight contributors react. Quentin

  5. mike Horsnall says:

    I’ve been following this for some time. It seems the game isnt worth the candle , results are poor and unreliable with little benefit so far. Perhaps if genuine results had been obtained then the moral argument against might have been undermined-as it is the argument is strengthened.

  6. Rahner says:

    “Perhaps if genuine results had been obtained then the moral argument against might have been undermined,,,,” If so, it couldn’t have been a very good argument.

  7. mike Horsnall says:

    Quite Rahner, ho hum.

  8. Quentin says:

    I think Rahner is right in this case since it is the absolute right to live that the embryo has. (Although I wonder whether a triploid organism which, of its structure, cannot develop far is truly a human embryo.) But in many moral decisions the proportion between the good achieved and the incidental harm is an important issue.

  9. mike Horsnall says:

    Yes Quentin I think that is the point. One has in mind the whole furore over torture and rendition. I don’t think moral judgements are ‘watertight’ unless there is this proportionality you speak of accepted and weighed. I probably agree that there is an’ absolute right’ of life for the embryo but ‘absolute’ is a word which doesnt much apply in human relationships. Its easy to mouth accquiescence to some more or ‘moral’ perspective and easy to use the word ‘absolute’. Harder though, on this impermanent earth, to apply them and if embryological stem cells provided the answer to Alzheimers then I think the ball game would be a very different one.

    • Quentin says:

      Mike, I agree with every word – except your last sentence. I do believe, with Kant, that human beings exist for their own sake and never as a means.

      Of course it might be possible to extract stem cells with no damage to an embryo, who would continue to term. Or even, stretching it, to use a descendent from line of stem cells which was originally immorally initiated. (Just as scientists might use the information extracted from the Masters and Johnson sordid experiments.) But not otherwise. Our equality lies in our shared humanity, not in our age or in any other accidental characteristic.

      • tim says:

        Well, the European General Court is about to decide this point – they will give judgment on 18 October. Advocate-General Bot has given very orthodox advice, evoking howls of distress from those working and investing in the field. Most of the time the Court follows the Advocate-General, but not always.

  10. mike Horsnall says:

    Yes I think you are probably right.

  11. st.joseph says:

    What is the difference morally between what the scientists are doing above than what they were doing in Germany in the Nazi camps ? I really am ignorant to it all but am interestedThey were doing it for the good of humanity too I presume.

  12. Iona says:

    The right to life for an embryo depends on our recognition of the embryo as a human being. If it’s human, it has the same right to life as the rest of us. If a researcher doesn’t recognise it as human, then he/she will have no moral qualms in making use of it in research or treatment, just as though it were any old piece of human tissue.

    I think – but I’m not sure – that embryonic stem cells can be “harvested” from an umbilical cord at the time of the baby’s birth. No moral problem in using such cells – as long as there’s no attempt to make them develop into an embryo first.

    • st.joseph says:

      When we know that abortion takes place up to full term,and it is accepted ,can we wonder why there is so much imorality in the world..They are not even bothered about embryo’s.Babies are disposable!
      Nor are most people when women even Catholics use abortifacients.
      I do believe that stem cell research is going on from the umbilical cord, and I believe it is accepted by the Church, I have some information somewhere I will look it up.
      It is probably right when Quentin says the scientists want to ensure that their grants continue!

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