Dr. Gene Rudd, Associate Director of Christian Medical and Dental Assocation, responds to a recent a Dec. 4 Washington Post article, "2 Stem Cell Options Presented," in which doctors consider two alternative ways to harvest stem cells without destroying the embryo.
For the first method involving the so-called brain-dead embryos for research, Donald W. Landry and Howard A. Zucker argued that the embryos no longer have the capacity for human life and are organismically dead. What is your opinion in using these types of embryos for stem cell research?
Can I give you a preamble before I answer the question?
I think its important to say that my first reaction was, I hope there is something here that will eliminate the ethical concern. That was my first reaction. It hasnt happened. I still have some serious ethical concerns after reading this article.
The other thing is that we are so dense on obtaining embryos for stem cell research that we are willing to go to extremes as this and find some loopholes in our ethical boundaries.
We can use adult stem cells; the successes are real, they are occurring everyday, they not constrained and show great promise.
The only thing embryonic stem cell research has done is show potential. There has been no success. Embryonic stem cell research only results in tumor formation and poor outcome.
I think there are genuine motives to say that embryonic cell research can provide some cures we all want them -- but are we going to let an evil transpire and pursue something good?
So, youre saying we shouldnt let the ends justify the means?
I think we can very easily pull the wool over the publics eye and deceive them. There is something called nuclear somatic transfer -- its cloning. With one, they have an intrinsic concern about and the other they dont have a concern about since they dont understand what it means.
All these things need to be put in context:
One--we want success, we want to seek cures. There is right way to do it and a wrong way to do it. Lets not take the wrong way.
Second--We dont want to create deception. I think some of the marketing behind the science is willing to do that to achieve the goals. Their goals are not so pure as to achieve cures. They need money to fund the research. They cant get it from the private sector but from the public sector and in order to get it from the public sector, they need to win public sentiment.
Why arent they getting it from the private sector? Because venture capitalists are putting their money in adult stem cell research. There is a story of a robber named Willy Sutton who robbed banks. They ask him, Why do you rob banks? and he said, Thats where the money is. Venture capitalists are putting their money in adult stem cell research because that's where the cures are.
Can you name any cures?
Sure. Just a few weeks ago, a South Korean woman walked because she had received treatment from umbilical cord stem cell treatment. There have been adult stem cells used for heart muscle rehabilitation, muscle growth, diabetes, Parkinsons disease.
When these laboratories that do these research dont get private funds, there is a process, intentional or not, to creating deception.
Nuclear transfer is cloning. Whether you do it to create a baby or stem cells, the process is the same that you destroy the embryo.
Lets talk about the second option called "altered nuclear transfer. Hurlbut described it as sabotaging one or more genes essential for normal embryonic development or canceling them at the start. He said it would not have the status of a person. What is your response?
The second option, they likened it to organ-harvesting, saying society has accepted that. There is a movement by institutions opposing that.
What about critics who say the organs are more viable before the body is dead?
We can remove the organs after death and still have them be viable. We have the technology to do that. But when you say embryos can be used because they are going to be dead, you start crossing a line where abuses take placea backlash I would say. Weve had so many doctors who were so ambitious in getting the organs that they ignored the dignity of human life of the patients. They were driven by the motive that clouded their judgment.
One thing you have to remember is that we cannot define human beings based on potential or capacity.
What conditions are there to declare a embryo dead? Or what characteristics would a dead embryo have?
Once an embryo is in a nurturing environment, it should be multiplying and growing. Once that stops, we can say its a dead embryo.
So, would you equate the death of an embryo with its cells ceasing to grow and multiply?
I think thats one of the characteristics but I wouldnt say that is all. There is potential for us to define that there are embryos that are dead.
We have a created a complex web, because here we are trying to solve some other problem. We are creating a problem of creating excess embryos sitting in freezer containers. That really concerns me.
Dont get me wrong. I support in-vitro fertilization. But you should never create an excess number of embryos with the intention of discarding them.
What would you say to taking Chinese prisoners and taking their organs? Im sure you read the article a few years back.
What Im talking about is the utilitarian approach We will take one life and put it at a disadvantage kill them and take their organs to put it in another life. We dont want to do that.
Youll think about the horror.
Remember, a human life and a person is not defined by potential or capacity. Thats why we care for handicapped and mentally ill. We give them privileges, not take away their privileges.
Now, Ive seen teratomas grow hair on them. How should I put it --If my neighbor has the potential to go out and be killed in an automobile accident. Thats an accident. Because that can happen in life, that doesnt give me the right to kill that person.
If General Motors were to create a car that we knew would be dangerous, we wouldnt let them produce it. Its called product liability. Were not going to intentionally produce that car.
I find it troubling that we get our vision clouded by the hope of the good coming out of this by ignoring the inherent problems coming down this path.
We need to ask: The ethical loophole here that will allow us to do research without ethical compromise, is it instrinsically good or evil in itself?
Now, going back to your second question.
Take away for the moment that any good could come out of that, is that process creating a defective life ethical or unethical? I think thats something wrong with that.
There are doctors talking about the capability of making human forms that have bodies but heads to harvest their organs. Just because good can come out of it doesnt mean its ethical.
I think there is something wrong about intentionally creating a form of life that is defective. It lowers the dignity and respect for all of human life to create a defective form.
These embryos have a handicap. What message would that send? Someone with a handicap-- you dont measure up so we have the right to take away your privilege ?
The same principle applies whether you are big or small, small being the embryo.
Dr. Gene Rudd is the Associate Executive Director of Christian Medical & Dental Association. He is a specialist in obstetrics/gynecology, and has extensive experience as a director of a maternal-fetal medicine training program and in rural healthcare practice. He has garnered several awards including the Gorgas Medal, presented by the U.S. government for the most significant achievement in preventive medicine.
The Washington Post article, "2 Stem Cell Options Presented," can be viewed at the following link: www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A33766-2004Dec3.html?nav=rss_topnews.