Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Let's talk about stem cells

You can't mention stem cells without infuriating some folks. Some reactions I've heard include claims that stem cell research kills innocent lives. Now, if you want to get people's attention and quickly get them on your side, I can't think of a better way than yelling, "If you support stem cell research, you support killing babies!" Who wants to jump on the stem cell bandwagon when faced with that proposition? Spouting a statement like this is an Appeal to Emotion, which is a fallacy. It's when someone attempts to manipulate or appeal to your emotions in place of evidence, to get you to support their claim. Don't get me wrong, it's hard to combat this fallacy. But, you've got to try! The problem is that this statement is NOT TRUE. Incendiary, misinformed comments like this lead to the spread of ignorance and can be quite harmful.

Let's talk facts. There are a few different types of stem cells, but the ones that most people refer to in these discussions are embryonic stem cells. So what are they? They are cells that come from four day old embryos. At this stage, the embryos are more accurately called blastocysts and contain 150 cells. What's the dilemma? To get the cells to use in research, the embryo must be destroyed. So if we are establishing the fact that we must destroy a four day old embryo to further our research, the real question becomes, Where do these embryos come from? I think it may surprise a lot of people to know their origin. Embryos used in stem cell research come from donated frozen embryos that were no longer needed or wanted at in vitro fertilization clinics. So these embryos were fertilized in clinics, for the original purpose of implantation into women. Later it was determined that they weren't needed for fertilization, so they were donated. If they hadn't been donated, what would've happened? They would have remained frozen embryos indefinitely, never to become living, breathing human beings, or they would've been destroyed anyways.

To me, having this knowledge, this issue really becomes a non-issue. Let's see, I purposely and intentionally and legally went to an in vitro clinic to aid in my attempt to get pregnant. I froze my fertilized embryos for future use. After I used some, or changed my mind and didn't use some, I pondered what to do with my remaining eggs. MY remaining eggs. If I chose to donate them, why should they be turned away? Embryonic stem cells can divide into more stem cells and can become any type of body cell. This makes their potential for regeneration or repair of diseased tissue and organs extremely high. It also means they hold promise for the potential treatment of debilitating diseases like Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, cancer, etc. So I can either destroy my unwanted embryos with no benefit, or I can destroy my unwanted embryos and possibly contribute to future medical breakthroughs. I don't see how this is even a decision.

It seems like if people knew the facts and still had a problem with stem cell research, they'd start pushing for legislation against in vitro clinics. That's where the problem starts, right?

Props: I referred to All About Popular Issues and the Mayo Clinic and PBS in my research.

1 comment:

Shawn said...

Excellent explanation and easy to understand IF people would take the time to educate themselves. I think some issues are inflammated by those who are quick to react and boil issues down to some sort of black and white catch-all. I got so sick of trying to educate my dad during the election - he still kept sending completely erroneous and inflammatory e-mails, and then it dawned on me: some people are just loathe to do their own research, to get to the truth - it's a cop-out, but the EASY way, to just buy everything someone's selling. And that goes for ANY viewpoint.
Well done! Agree 100%.