A search for the meaning of life
(Top Posts - Social/Legal - 081801)

Most newsgroup readers are likely somewhat acquainted
with my views favoring stem cell research and the critical
importance of allowing both the use of blastocysts other-
wise destined for trash bins -and- the technique of thera-
peutic human cloning in advancing the search for cures
for chronic diseases.

References:

The end (promoting god/faith/religion)
does not justify the means (lip service to
embryos) (081401)
http://prohuman.net/social_legal/end_does_not_justify_means.htm
"... Could it be that embryological stem cell research
is a strong reminder to everyone, especially church
types, that there is no god, we exist in a naturalistic
world, and it's up to us, only us, to determine what
course we set for ourselves, both now and in the
future? ..."

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Therapeutic Human Cloning - Brits Lead the Way ...

... as American scientists either submit to the religious
right and the pope-a-tized -or- depart American shores
to return to our seminal origins, to a nation which has
grown wiser and more forward-thinking than its younger
progeny ...

Tuesday, 23 January, 2001, 10:51 GMT
Q&A: Therapeutic human cloning
http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/sci/tech/newsid_859000/859672.stm

Excerpts:

"Q. What is therapeutic cloning?

A. ... Scientists are not copying embryos. What they
do is take the genetic material from a cell in an adult's
body and fuse it with an empty egg cell. With the right
trigger, this new cell can then be persuaded to develop
into an embryo. ...

- - -

Q. Why do researchers want to do it?

A. To extract embryonic stem cells. These are the
"master cells" that have the potential to develop into
virtually every other type of cell in the body. ...

Scientists believe stem cells can provide us with a ready
supply of replacement tissue. Initially, individual cells
would be implanted into our bodies to repair the damage
caused by degenerative illnesses like heart disease.

Ultimately, however, it may be possible to persuade
stem cells to grow into complete organs. But if this is
possible, it is many years away.

- - -

Q. Why is cloning such an important part of this?

A. It is important because it would allow the creation
of perfect-match tissue. At the moment, if you have a
transplant, your body will try to reject the donated cells
because it sees them as foreign.

Doctors dampen this immune response by prescribing
powerful anti-rejection drugs that patients must take for
life. But the cells created through therapeutic cloning
would not have this problem. They would be derived
from the patient him/herself and the immune system
would recognise the cells as the body's own. ...

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Tuesday, 23 January, 2001, 09:43 GMT
UK enters the clone age
http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/uk_politics/newsid_1132000/1132034.stm

Excerpts:

"Embryonic stem cells could revolutionise medicine.

British scientists are clear to use human embryos to
find cures for disease after a landmark vote in the
House of Lords. ...

We are right up front in advancing scientific research
for the benefits of our people and indeed across the
world.

"I think we are at the stage now with science where
certainly using embryonic stem cells we can start to
ask real questions."

'Morally right'

The vote was also welcomed by Liberal Democrat
science spokesman Evan Harris.

"I am personally delighted - and that delight will be
shared by patient groups and clinicians - that the Lords
have done the morally right thing.

"That is to allow carefully regulated research on stem
cells using early embryos to proceed in the search for
cures for some terrible diseases."

Scientists developing treatments for a number of diseases
have also welcomed the vote.

Dr Austin Smith, from the Genome Research Centre at
Edinburgh University, said the decision was good news.

"If the Lords had taken an alternative decision, it would
have been a devastating blow, principally for the patients
who suffer from diseases like Parkinson's and diabetes
for which stem cell research offers hope." ...

Scientists believe that many serious, degenerative diseases,
such as Alzheimer's and heart disease, and even spinal
cord injuries, could be cured if they can develop new
ways to regenerate or replace damaged tissue.

Many believe that the best hope for this lies with the stem
cells present in a growing embryo. These cells have the
ability, under the right conditions, to generate virtually all
the tissues in the body.

If the stem cells are sourced from an embryo made from
the patient's own genetic material, the new tissues would
be a perfect match and would not be rejected by the
immune system.

This would allow patients to get on with their lives free
from the restrictive drug regimes current transplant
patients have to endure."

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The following article offers a unique perspective on the
contentious issues of "the beginning of human life", and
may, for some, offer the opportunity to reconsider posi-
tions strongly held up to now ...

A search for the meaning of life

In a petri dish or in a womb:
What makes a human being?

By Richard Cohen
WASHINGTON POST WRITERS GROUP

[the following link is no longer available]
-http://www.msnbc.com/news/613846.asp?0dm=C12UO-

Complete article:

"Aug 16 — Through the miracle of modern science —
miniaturization and all of that — this column will take you
into the Fallopian tubes of your ordinary woman of child-
bearing age. A sperm is swimming like crazy toward the
egg. It makes contact and fertilizes it. The egg then moves
up the tube so that it can attach itself to the wall of the
womb. But — oh, no! — it cannot do so. No pregnancy
results. Oh well, maybe next time.

This process takes place — I have invented the actual
statistic — 2.6 billion times a month. That is the number
of times sexual intercourse produces a fertilized egg that
does not, for some reason, result in a pregnancy. Left to
its own devices, nothing would happen. Still, is that
fertilized egg a life?

The answer is no. Life requires additional steps — adhering
to the wall of the womb, just for starters. Life requires
progressing from the embryo stage to the fetus stage —
and, maybe, then some. But if the process is interrupted,
which is more the rule than the exception in nature, then
we do not have life. We had merely the potential for it.

WHAT’S A “HUMAN BEING”?

And yet, it is at that very stage in the process — the mere
production of a fertilized egg — that George W. Bush and
his fellow “pro-lifers” declare that a “human being” has
been created, a term Bush himself has used in reference
to mere embryos, particularly those created by cloning.

So the harvesting of these fertilized eggs, the embryos,
cannot be permitted even though they might wind up
saving the lives of people who now will die from one
disease or another. How that can be called pro-life is
beyond me.

Anyone can see that, ultimately, stem cell research and
the related field of cloning are going to produce ethical
questions galore. But the one that exists at the moment
is entirely manufactured — the product of calling an
embryo a “human being.” Only by doing that do you
get a dilemma, a supposed tradeoff between the “human
being” residing in a petri dish that’s the embryo and the
“human being” that’s an actual human being, residing
maybe in your own home.

It is interesting to pause here and ask why most embryos
don’t adhere to the uterine wall. Sometimes, it’s because
the embryos have genetic abnormalities. Sometimes, though,
these abnormal embryos do not self-abort and when that
is the case, a severely handicapped baby may result. In
other words, by not interfering — by letting nature take its
(mistaken) course — a heart-breaking tragedy can occur.

I take this example from a speech given by Hubert Markl,
the president of Germany’s renowned Max Planck Society,
which was reprinted in the scientific journal Nature. He uses
the term “biologism” to refer to what, really, is the basis for
Bush’s thinking: Anything produced by human beings is
human and cannot be trifled with.

BIOLOGISM 101

Thus, we get stuck with a kind of awful determinism, embrac-
ing as “human” embryos that nature ordinarily rejects. The
pro-lifers would even overrule nature itself, insisting that
anything moving through the birth canal is a human being
and thus inviolate. They know, somehow, that this is what
God intended — even for some incomprehensible reason,
the birth of a Tay-Sachs baby which will live in agony and
die prematurely.

But as Markl points out, the ability to choose—to use our
noggin—is the quintessentially human characteristic. And
yet this gets rejected in favor of a determinism that is not
human at all. It is merely chemistry in action. In the purported
cause of forbidding others from playing God, Bush and like-
minded people would themselves play God. As is usually
the case, everyone seems to know what God intends.

NATURE’S WAY

In a way, the stem cell controversy is the absurd product of
the fight against abortion. Who could have thought that back
when most of us took sides, some of us would have wound
up defending late-term abortions on the one hand while others
would denounce stem cell research? In both cases, principle
has thoroughly trashed common sense.

Common sense would at least suggest that we are entitled to
do what nature itself does all the time. Yet, by fiat based on
religious belief, the president has decided to severely limit
stem cell research funded by the government and maybe even
conducted by private industry as well. In the end, it’s possible
that human beings may die so that embryos will live. This is
not an ethical dilemma. It is an ethical travesty."

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