Promising news from the stem cell front:

Scientists reported Thursday they had developed a technique that can quickly create safe alternatives to human embryonic stem cells, a major advance toward developing a less controversial approach for treating for a host of medical problems.

The researchers published a series of experiments showing they can use laboratory-made versions of naturally occurring biological signals to quickly convert ordinary skin cells into cells that appear virtually identical to embryonic stem cells. Moreover, the same strategy can then coax those cells to morph into specific tissues that would be a perfect match for transplantation into patients.

The work, by a team led by Derrick J. Rossi of the Children’s Hospital Boston, was praised by other researchers as a breakthrough.

The article explains the new technique in more detail. I did find this quote to be an interesting commentary on the need for people to think more carefully about this issue:
Scientists hope embryonic stem cells will lead to cures for...a host of...ailments because they can turn into almost any tissue in the body. But they can be obtained only by destroying days-old embryos, which some consider equivalent to killing human life.

Some consider? Does any biologist contest the fact that the embryo is very early human life that will indeed be killed in the process of ESCR?  Is anyone unsure about what kind of embryo is being killed? I suspect that if you were to push the author on this question, he would concede that of course it’s biologically human life, but it’s not valuable human life as older humans are.

But this is why people need to be more precise with their words. Let’s make it clear to people that we really are talking about human life at the earliest stages. Using the term “human life” to refer only to the humans who meet a preferred standard for value is a good way to perpetuate a bias against certain human beings (be they embryos or slaves), but it’s not honest.

A person who does not believe that every human life is valuable ought to use language that conveys this clearly so there’s no confusion in our culture about the judgment being made against certain humans. Contrast “valuable human life” with “non-valuable human life,” but leave the “human life” constant if all involved are humans. Something like this:
But they can be obtained only by destroying days-old embryonic human life, which some consider equivalent to killing valuable human life.

Then those who feel strongly about upholding the principle of universal human rights will more easily recognize when they are violating their own principle.

[UPDATE: The phrase “which some consider equivalent to killing human life” has been removed from the article at The Washington Post. You can still find it with slightly different editing here and here.]

(Cross-posted at Stand to Reason)

More on: Science, Ethics

Articles by Amy K. Hall

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