Stem cells aren’t people too

By Chris Tait

If there were lessons to be learned from garbage–perhaps some great truths leading to some significant changes–would it still be haphazardly tossed aside? Recent developments in stem cell research have provided us with a very controversial answer.

Like any good controversy, many players swirl about in this tragicomedy of ethical confusion.

Oddly enough the fertility clinics that are the source of embryos used by researchers have avoided much ire from the pro-life lobby. When an in vitro fertilization results in multiple successes, one of those groups of cells is naturally selected as the most appropriate candidate, while the rest are simply discarded. It’s wonderful to be able to help build families, but the clinics might be on shaky ground with pro-lifers, wasting valuable leftovers from successful fertilizations.

The pro-life argument hinges on the sheer possibility of life. Because a fertilized embryo is capable of becoming a human being, it is too precious to sacrifice. Given the current limitations on maturing human embryos–which are targeting possibilities of human cloning–the only way to legally ensure the potential of unused embryos is to find them a womb.

The recent clamour of age-old debates and worn arguments gives way to two very simple, very logical points.

First, researchers have made great strides in using adult stem cells over the several decades they have used them in experimentation. From mending broken bones that would otherwise refuse to heal, to reported successes in treating neurological disorders–all from the patient’s own stem cells–the adult tissues have managed to yield positive results. There is absolutely no reason not to expect great things from their embryonic counterparts, given they have a greater potential for cellular diversification.

The second: by utilizing material that would otherwise be wasted, researchers can help hundreds of thousands of Canadians. If the government is willing to advocate for the recycling of cans and bottles instead of disposing of them, the use of otherwise unnecessary biological material should similarly be welcomed. Oh, and the estimated 100,000 Canadians suffering from Parkinson’s disease, 55,000 with multiple sclerosis and the many patients annually diagnosed with permanent, deb- ilitating brain and spinal damage would probably appreciate consideration when deciding the appropriate course of action for medical research.

There should always be strict ethical sourcing of the materials used in embryonic research, but allowing an important learning opportunity to slip through the trash compactor in its bright yellow biohazard bag would be as stupid as it would be wasteful.


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