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September 6, 2006
Dear Concerned Citizen,
by Wesley J. Smith
side bar side bar side bar Scientists at Advanced Cell Technology (ACT) had indeed issued a press release claiming they could obtain stem cells by taking only one cell from an early 8-10 cell embryo, which, the release claimed, permitted the embryos to remain viable. (Conventional ESCR is conducted upon later-stage embryos at the 100-200 cell stage, which destroys the embryo.)

But upon closer investigation, it quickly became clear that the story was mostly spin. A review of the actual paper published in the science journal Nature revealed that ACT’s scientists did derive stem cells from human embryos earlier than ever before, but also that the they destroyed every embryo in the process—just as occurs in conventional embryonic stem cell research. Thus the classic media feeding frenzy the experiment sparked was actually much ado about very little.

Still, there is actually some good news to be found in this tempest in a teapot. Before I describe it, let me explain why this exaggerated story gained such international visibility.

The most important moral question of the 21st Century is whether human life has intrinsic moral worth simply and merely because it is human. A sanctity/equality of human life ethic understands that simply being human matters morally. Otherwise, the door is opened wide to oppression, exploitation, and even killing of the weak and vulnerable. Under this view, there are just some things that should not be done to human beings—whether nascent, disabled, or elderly.

But many bioethicists and scientists disagree that simply being a member of the human species conveys moral value. In this view, only “persons,” a moral status earned by possessing minimal mental abilities, really count. Under personhood theory, as this philosophy is sometimes called, some human beings are not persons, meaning that these unfortunates do not have the right to life and can be used instrumentally as if they were mere natural resources.

And this is precisely what happens in embryonic stem cell research and therapeutic cloning. Nascent humans are destroyed and harvested for their cells as so many corn crops—which is why it is so controversial. And this is also why President Bush imposed significant federal funding restrictions on ESCR—to protect the value of nascent human life.

We can now see why ACT’s research non-breakthrough was deemed worthy of so much fuss. Most of the media hyped the ACT experiment as undermining Bush’s policy. Now, the stories reported breathlessly, scientists would be free to pursue embryonic stem cell research to their heart’s content.

Ironically—rather than toppling Bush’s policy, it instead validated it. Indeed, ACT’s attempt to create stem cell lines without destroying embryos—and the media’s hyping the story—shows precisely how successful President Bush has been in keeping the ethical focus of the science community fixed on the important moral issues involved with destructive embryonic research.

And here’s some more good news. Scientists throughout the world are working hard to develop methods to obtain cells with all the scientific potential hoped for from embryonic stem cells—and without harming embryos in any way.

One such area of investigation is Altered Nuclear Transfer (ANT), currently being tested in animal studies. If ANT works, it would create stem cell lines without also bringing new human embryos into existence. [see sidebar interview with Dr. Hurlbut] Another potentially exciting avenue of research comes out of Japan where scientists have reverted rat skin cells to an embryonic-like state. And of course, adult stem cell research continues to show much promise in developing efficacious medical treatments in early human trials.

So this is the bottom line: We should never underestimate the imagination and capability of scientists to solve difficult scientific problems. That is why it is crucial that we maintain proper ethical parameters around stem cell research. So long as we continue to insist that nascent human lives matter morally, there seems little doubt that inspired scientists will be able to develop a powerful and beneficial stem cell sector without undermining the intrinsic value of human life.

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Responses to The Condescending Wink:

Science and religion have this one great point in common. Both seek the truth. To the measure that either becomes doctrinaire about their beliefs, they stray from this great quest. The idea that there is a sinister and intentional anti-religious strategy on the part of academics is ludicrous. If highly educated and thoughtful people (scientists included) feel alienated from organized religion it is because they find the insistence on indefensible and untrue doctrines to be unexceptable to their rational minds. If faith is to be viable in the 21st century, it needs to make sense. When it does, the PhD's will be back in church. For the most part, people of science are also people of faith. If we give them a church with an open mind in which to explore their spiritual questions with as much vigor as they investigate the mysteries of nature they will be with us whole-heartedly. - Rev. Jim Frisbie

A book that may provide further insight is Ann Coulter’s book “Godless”. You can get it on CD from Amazon.com. Liberalism has evolved into a godless religion and this book explains that clearly and is extremely funny. Ann explains why liberals work so hard to lie to us about global warming, evolution, abortion, embryonic stem cells, schools, the media, judges, criminals, freedom, the environment, AIDS, elected officials, and Hitler’s use of Darwinism to justify his version of natural selection, etc. Ann tells the truth and presents the facts in an easy to understand manner. She explains how the issues listed above are part of a connected historical scheme to turn the U.S. into a godless nation. Because she is very patriotic and knows that the United States is the greatest country in the world, she has written this excellent book on how to save the U.S. from moral bankruptcy. God Bless You, - Carol Olin

Why don't you do a piece about Hans J. Eysenck, the German national who fled Nazi Germany to London to become one of psychology's leading stars in the second half of the 20th century? Eysenck thoroughly debunked psychoanalysis, which explains why you might not have heard of him. - Sam Thiessen

Responses to other tothesource articles:

Come on now, you can’t possibly expect us to believe that “Accepted” presents a factual account of what is happening on our college campuses. “Accepted” is no more representative of college campus life than “The Da Vinci Code” is representative of the early church. IT’S A MOVIE. How naïve do you think we are? I spent 14 years on college campuses as an undergraduate, graduate student, and university employee (including three years as a residence director). As a graduate student at Stanford, I studied colleges and universities in the School of Education. I am also currently involved in campus ministries in Northern California. In all those years, I have seen some of the behavior described but I would say that the vast, vast, majority of college students simply don’t have time for such shenanigans. Many of them have to work to pay for school and are just too busy trying to graduate and make something of themselves. But alas, these students don’t make very interesting material for Hollywood, and I suspect few people would shell out $10 to see a movie about their lives. So, while I agree that the cases that the author cites *have* happened, I find her citation of a whopping THREE incidents hardly convincing of widespread moral decay on our campuses. The truth is that there are over 3,000 institutions of higher education in the United States. If the best that she can do is find three examples, given the number of universities and the hundreds of classes offered at each one, I think the universities are doing a pretty fair job. People will see what they want in any university curriculum. If you look for examples of post-modern deconstructionist thought, you will, as the author states, certainly find them. But to suggest that that’s all you’ll find in a college curriculum is insulting and patently misleading. That’s the strength of the American educational system; the diversity of thought that you will find expressed within it. Sure, there are universities that are more than willing to rigidly indoctrinate their students in some “accepted” cannon, but we only find those universities within the most repressive political regimes. Thus, we are faced with a choice. We can require strict adherence to an accepted line of thought, but in doing so, give up the freedoms which have been a hallmark of our society. Or we can accept that the freedoms we now take for granted mean that at times we must allow views different from our own (politically, philosophically, or even religiously) a voice at the table. I don’t know about you, but I would take the latter over the former in a heartbeat. And I think most of the rest of the world would, too. - Derek Miyahara

Dear Derek,

I am perfectly aware that Accepted is a movie…which is why I was struck by how many accurate insights it contained. While I am also aware of the many students just doing their best to get by and make something of themselves (I happen to fall into that camp myself) I found it appalling that I often did so IN SPITE of the leadership and ethos of the university.

In reference to the “meager” three examples of disturbing activities on college campuses, I could have given a hundred more, but that would have made the article a bit long.

However, the point was not to go on some prudish rant about how college kids should be angels. Leaving home, testing limits, making mistakes and learning from them are all important. What I described is different than "people misbehaving within a moral framework of common goods"...what I described is the result of University administrators (like those I cited from the University of Chicago) accepting the complete absence of any moral framework!

Freedom, as you mention, is an important thing…which is why I am upset when students get indoctrinated by strict university regimes of secularism and amorality. Nowhere else in society do we accept relativistic anarchy…not in our tax system, businesses, building codes, or legal practices. I really hope that as a leader of a Christian campus ministry, you have not bought into the “accepted canon” that mocks decency, promotes deconstruction of values, and censures traditional faith and family structures that the university itself feeds on.

Let me put it into renowned professor Richard Rorty’s words one more time: “Students are lucky to find themselves under the benevolent Herrschaft (rule) of people like me, and to have escaped the grip of their frightening, vicious, dangerous parents. …Parents ought to be forewarned that we are going to go right on trying to discredit you in the eyes of your children, trying to strip your fundamentalist religious community of dignity, trying to make your views seem silly rather than discussible.”

Instead of ridicule for embracing standards and ultimacy, I’d welcome a seat at your hypothetical pluralistic table. - Julia Thompson

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left links right
How to Farm Stem Cells Without Losing Your Soul
Stem Cell Research: A Lesson for Our Time
BioAgenda Topic: The Latest in the Stem Cell Debate in the U.S. and Abroad
Moral Stem Cells: First Things
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We live complex lives. We strive to sort out priorities that sometimes conflict or seem incompatible. A moral framework is needed to help us understand the reality around us. Our Judeo-Christian heritage provides a framework to help us comprehend the choices we make and the conflicts that arise over them. It is not only the main source of our spiritual values, but also many of the secular values we depend on.

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wesley smith   Wesley J. Smith
Smith is an attorney and consultant for the International Task Force on Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide. His book Forced Exit: The Slippery Slope from Assisted Suicide to Legalized Murder (1997), a broad-based criticism of the assisted suicide/euthanasia movement was published in 1997. His book Culture of Death: The Assault on Medical Ethics in America, a warning about the dangers of the modern bioethics movement, was named One of the Ten Outstanding Books of the Year and Best Health Book of the Year for 2001 (Independent Publisher Book Awards). Smith is an international lecturer and public speaker, appearing frequently at political, university, medical, legal, disability rights, bioethics, and community gatherings across the United States, Great Britain, Canada, and Australia.
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