The Dilemma That Isn't

on February 12, 2011
Featured in News to Know

PhysOrg: “Value of iPS Cells Proved in Two StudiesDo the potential benefits of embryonic stem cell research justify the destruction of tiny, unborn human lives? Or is there a viable alternative?

The way the mainstream media portrays it, stem cell research is a major ethical quandary. On the one hand, stem cells derived from human embryos are said to have incredible potential to remedy physical ailments, perhaps even allowing the paralyzed to walk again. On the other hand, few individuals say there’s absolutely nothing wrong with destroying those viable human embryos. Do we sacrifice life on the altar of healing?

Few individuals say there’s absolutely nothing wrong with destroying those viable human embryos. Do we sacrifice life on the altar of healing?

While secular ethicists wrestle with the dilemma, the past decade has seen a steady stream of good news about morally sound alternatives to embryonic stem cell research. Although popular reporting often obscures the fact, unborn embryos are not the only source of human stem cells. Moreover, partial restrictions on embryonic stem cell research put in place during the Bush administration encouraged researchers to investigate how to “induce” pluripotent stem cells from adult cells. We’ve regularly reported on their experimental progress, which includes a number of successful therapies developed without destroying human life.

Now, a team of Ivy League scientists has shown that stem cells derived from adult cells are “equal” to embryonic stem cells in creating new neurons, which are useful in therapies aimed at reducing the impact of diseases like Parkinson’s. The team used genomic analysis techniques to compare variation in both embryonic and induced stem cell lines, determining that each had a similar pattern of variation.

One of the multi-university teams, led by Harvard stem cell expert Kevin Eggan, reported that “all 16 lines were turned into motor neurons and were usable. . . . [B]ut the main message is that, on average, iPS cell lines behaved as well as human embryonic stem cell lines.”

The findings give us even more reason to believe we should do away with embryonic stem cell research, which is a prominent emblem of modern society’s devaluation of the unborn child. Furthermore, the supposed ethical quandary has been increasingly revealed to be a fiction. What is troubling is that were it not for government restrictions and for those who spoke out against embryonic stem cell research, we may have never learned what promise induced pluripotent stem cells hold.

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