There have been very bad results in the past using fetal neural cells to treat human maladies—particularly with Parkinson’s disease. Moreover, fetal stem cells have caused tumors in at least one human patient. But scientists still believe that fetal stem cells could hold promise for treating neurological conditions, and so after successful animal studies, researchers in the UK are conducting a human safety trial on using fetal stem cells as a treatment for stroke. From the story:
Doctors have injected stem cells into a man’s brain as part of the world’s first clinical trial of the cells in stroke patients. The former truck driver, who is in his 60s, was severely disabled by a stroke 18 months ago and requires continuous care from his wife. Doctors injected around two million cells into a healthy region of his brain called the putamen, close to where neurons were damaged by the stroke. They hope the injected cells will release chemicals that stimulate new brain cells and blood vessels to grow, while healing scar tissue and reducing inflammation.
What to make of this ethically? It’s difficult, but I don’t believe using fetal tissue is inherently wrong.
For me, using human cadaver cells—when the cadaver was not killed for the purpose of obtaining those cells—is not the same morally as ending human life in order to obtain the material. In other words, it is not using human life as an object, a mere natural resource. In this regard, it seems no different than organ transplantation. (We see the same issues presented in fetal cells used in the creation of some vaccines.)
Some will say that the fetal cells came from an abortion, and therefore, should never be used. That charge is probably, but may not be, true. It could have been from a miscarriage. But the (im)morality of one act, it seems to me, should not be conflated with the morality of the other.
Assume you believe abortion is akin to murder and utterly unjustified. Using that analogy, would you say that a murder victim’s organs should not be transplanted? If not, how is using the tissue of the aborted fetus different? The two acts—cause of death and use of cadaver tissue—it seems to me, are distinct. Thus, one can support outlawing murder and abortion, and still accept the use of the cadaver body for beneficial purposes so long as the two events were transactionally unconnected.
Down the road though, we could see a different scenario. Fetal farming, e.g., creating cloned fetuses and gestating them for the purpose of instrumental uses, is already being advocated in some circles. That needs to be resisted at all measures.