When President Obama lifted President George W. Bush’s ban on federal funding for embryonic stem cells, it has come to my attention that there’s a lot of confusion regarding the process of harvesting these stem cells, the effect of the President’s action, and the differences between embryonic and adult stem cell research. Hopefully I can hold your attention long enough for this to be valuable to you. Bear with me, the science may be a little boring for some of you, but this is valuable information you need to have in order to better articulate the conservative position on embryonic stem cell research. My opinion on the matter will follow.
When talking about embryonic vs. adult stem cells, most people understand the key differences in where these cells come from, but a few misunderstand the process by which embryonic stem cells are harvested. Let me make this first point clear; Embryonic Stem Cells DO NOT come from aborted fetuses. I always cringe when I see pro-lifers argue that embryonic stem cell research encourages women to have abortions because those women will feel like they are doing something to contribute to finding new cures and treatments for debilitating diseases. I think a better argument is to point out that by endorsing and funding this kind of research, the government (and those who support embyronic stem cell research) devalue human life.
Now, the science part…
When a sperm cell (stop chuckling, this is a mature blog) and an egg cell fuse to create a zygote, massive cellular reproduction (mitosis) begins takes place. This is the first stage of Embryogenesis. Here’s a great illustration from that Wikipedia link for those of you too lazy to click.
Now, these cells are all taking up the same space as the original zygote. All cellular reproduction so far has taken place inside this contained area. As the embryo continues to develop, you will see two distinct structures form inside this space, the inner cell mass (ICM), and trophectoderm. This is a great little page from a the Advanced Fertility Center of Chicago showing photos of these different structures.
The ICM is where embryonic stem cells come from.
What scientists do to create embryonic stem cells is fertilize an egg cell in a test tube, wait a period of time to allow for the ICM to form inside the embryo, then destroy the embryo and harvest the embryonic cells from the ICM.
Science lesson over.
Previously, thanks to Bush, the process for harvesting stem cells that I just explained was banned from being conducted using federal money. However, the process was not banned altogether, private funds could still have been used for the harvesting of embryonic stem cells. Furthermore, from what I understand, this ban on federal funds usage only applied to the actual growth and harvest of embryonic stem cells. Once scientists had these stem cells in-hand, government money could be used for whatever experments they had in mind.
Those who argue for the goverment funding of embryonic stem cell research claim that it is needed because embryonic stem cells alone have the potential to become any type of cell in the human body, while adult stem cells have a limited potential and therefore aren’t as useful.
A couple things about this. First, if researching embryonic stem cells is as promising as these scientists and their supporters have us believe, why do they need the government to give them money? Last I knew, healthcare corporations dump millions upon millions of dollars into researching new cures for all sorts of afflictions and diseases. Why would they let something with such awesome potential go unfunded?
The simple answer is…that embryonic stem cell research isn’t as promising as liberals and the media would have us believe. The astonishing thing is that while stem cells have already led to a vast number of cures and treatments, all of these advances have come through the study of…ADULT stem cells, not embryonic.
The people who are supporting the federal funding of embryonic stem cell research are the same people who are conducting this research. They see that private companies aren’t interested in investing into research that has yet to produce anything so instead of researching adult stem cells (which have already proven a success), they go to the government for money.
Furthermore, several breakthroughs have been made in the past couple years that have unlocked the previously limited potential of adult stem cells. Yet why don’t we hear anyone arguing for more funding for that? Furthermore, adult stem cells harvested from a patient, contain the same DNA and are therefore carry a much lower risk of being rejected during treatment.
In an effort to continue to depress the idea that ALL human life is precious, we are told that embryonic stem cells show promise for treatments for all types of currently incurable diseases. Embryonic stem cell research as of today has resulted in zero cures and zero treatments. Why continue to pour taxpayer money into a science that some of those taxpayers find reprehensible? Especially when an alternative exists to which NO ONE opposes and also has already proved successful?