Evangelical Update

A resource for lefties who want to understand conservative Christians.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Does Anyone Have a Problem with This?

Today I heard about a way that stem cells are being created, and I thought this might be a good place to hear what people think about it on a ethical level.

For the sake of argument, assume that the stem cells I'll describe will be used only on paralyzed patients to help them grow new nerve cells, and that they will be able to walk again. Also, assume that you agree that that sort of procedure is ethical.

Here is the procedure (reported today in Science) which has been greatly improved (i.e. 1 in 16 tries are successful) by South Korean scientists: DNA is taken from a skin cell and injected into a donated human egg cell, which has had its own DNA removed. Stem cells, identical to those obtained from an embryo, are obtained as a result. The procedure was greatly improved by using freshly harvested eggs from fertile women rather than those left over from fertility treatment.

I made the limitations in the second paragraph, to limit the ethical question to the 3rd paragraph procedure and results.

As a scientist, I feel like an oddball when it comes to stem cell research. I think that we need to be extremely careful, and scientists need to slow down and come up with some agreed upon ethical guidelines before proceeding. Fortunately, The National Academies (home of the National Academy of Science, the most respected body of scientists in the U.S.) did just that last month. For the record, I have not read the regulations, but I'm glad to see some activity in this direction. I assume that the State of California will also adopt ethical guidelines, with the new billion+ dollar investment in stem cell research that the voters approved last year.

It's difficult for me to advocate for stopping scientific advance, especially since we are a culture obsessed with progress; this attitude of progress for progress' sake is ingrained into me too. But messing with human DNA - wow, that's something to really ponder. What does it mean to be human? What if scientists accidentally create something horrible, even while obeying guidelines?
I would love to hear what other people think. Is it OK to use stem cells that are derived from DNA + a non-fertilized human egg?