02 November 2006

View from a high horse - embryonic stem cell research.

Putting leftovers to good use.
I'm one of those ultra-cool, happening young things who watches Foreign Correspondent on the ABC. This week's instalment featured a story on the good old embryonic stem-cell research (ESCR) debate. The Foreign Correspondent folks did a pretty good job, displaying two views: one from a family with two diabetic children, who supported ESCR for its potential to cure, or at least prevent future cases of, Type 1 Diabetes; and the other from a family of two 'snowflake children', that is, children created from frozen embryos, who opposed ESCR.

I am loudly, unashamedly in favour of ESCR. I also like a good whine of an evening, so let me take issue with three of the 'snowflake' family's arguments against ESCR...

1. ESCR is "taking a life to save a life".
This argument implies that the embryos used for stem-cell research would otherwise be made into children, therefore making an otherwise barren and desperate family extremely happy indeed. Which is, of course, bollocks. Stem cells are taken from frozen embryos that have been knowingly donated by their creators, and would otherwise be chucked in the bin. Sure, they have the potential for life if they are thawed and implanted, but they're not, and they're never going to be. On the other hand, they may hold the key for saving hundreds or thousands of lives.
Of course, many people do believe that a bunch of fifty cells in a test-tube is a living human being. Obviously I am not one of those people.

2. Messing with embryos for research is "playing God".
How can the parents of 'snowflake' children make this argument with a straight face? The couple in this story argued that ESCR and cloning constitute "playing God", and that people should accept themselves and their kids the way God made them. If this couple followed their own advice, they wouldn't have any kids. Surely creating children from embryos frozen in a laboratory is messing with what the Big Fella intended?

3. Research that involves the destruction of embryos is baaaad.
How do these people think in vitro fertilisation was developed? Through a few pencil sketches and committee meetings? The research involved animal and human trials and (cue dramatic baddie music) the destruction or 'death' of embryos. But researchers rightly believed that it was worth risking some blastocysts and embryos for a method that has provided many thousands of childless couples with a chance of conceiving a healthy kid. Sounds like a bloody good reason to me.

Right. I'll pack up my soap-box now.

PS. I found a bunch of info at

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