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Stem Cell Debate at Harvard
Freedom's Ring ^ | February 23, 2005 | Leroy Garrett/Cecil Hook

Posted on 02/23/2005 12:43:21 PM PST by hocndoc

Number 252 February 23, 2005

CONTENTS ========== Stem Cell Debate At Harvard - Leroy Garrett Subscription Information

(Here is a brief, clear, and definitive essay on the stem cell debate by Leroy Garrett which you may want to save for reference. I thank Leroy for permission to send this to you. -CH)

Stem Cell Debate At Harvard =======================

The use of embryonic stem cells for regenerative medicine has become a profoundly divisive issue in recent years, both here and abroad. There is evidence that the transplantation of such cells might cure or prevent such diseases as Parkinson's, diabetes, ALS (Lou Gehrig's) and heart disease. It is estimated that from 100 to 150 million Americans alone have diseases that might be cured in this way. There are nevertheless serious ethical questions that make the proposal highly controversial.

The issue has been on the front burner ever since President Bush agreed that stem cell research should go forward with government support, but only those cells that have already been harvested. He opposes any further invasion of human embryos on ethical grounds, which further fueled the controversy.

I viewed it with more than passing interest when this volatile issue was debated in the Harvard Magazine. I learned from personal experience as a graduate student at that university that "no holds are barred" when controversial issues are discussed. It may well be the freest university in the world when it comes to the marketplace of ideas. I learned firsthand that any position -- however conservative or traditional -- will be considered so long as it is reasonably and responsibly argued.

I will let you decide how reasonable and responsible the debaters were this time around, professors all. They were all on the Harvard faculty except one, who was from Princeton, and even he was Harvard educated. This may appear to be a one-sided "liberal" bashing of an ideology, but don't bet on it. What happens at Harvard can also be wholly unpredictable. If you hang around the place for long, you would do well to play your cards close to your chest.

While they had their differences, they agreed that stem cell research is an issue of monumental significance. The stakes are high. The issue deserves vigorous discussion. They also agreed that it is understandably controversial with all its ethical implications. And that it is as complex as it is controversial. They agreed that the embryo has life -- but therein lies the basic issue: What kind of life is the human embryo?

One professor insisted that since the embryo has neither a heart, lungs, brain or nervous system it is irrational to view it as a human being. Another added that it is but human tissue, and it is living and human only in the sense that other organs are living and human. If we can transplant hearts, lungs, and livers in order to save life, why can we not transplant embryonic cells -- not only to save life, but perhaps to destroy some diseases forever? It is all human organs and tissue that we are talking about, he argued.

Another claimed that an embryo is essentially part of the mother's body. It is only potentially a human being. It undergoes a process of growth and evolution that can eventually be identified as a human being -- perhaps when the heart starts beating at 22 days or at the time of implantation -- but no one can say for sure. But it is certainly not a person when it is merely a blastocyst, a tissue formation of sperm and ovum.

One professor suggested a test case for those who would ascribe personhood and "equal moral status" to a human embryo. There is a fire in an embryonic laboratory. There is a tray of six embryos on the table and a five-year old girl nearby. Which would you save from the fire?

Enter the Princeton professor -- who holds a doctor of jurisprudence from Harvard -- who had a different view of the matter. When his colleagues objected to his description of human embryos as human beings, he reminded them that no one can deny that they are "whole living members of the species Homo sapiens at an early stage of development."

He held that an embryo has "equal moral status" to a human being at any other level of existence -- whether fetal, infant, child, adolescent, or adult. Not equal social status, but equal moral status. As for saving the five-year old girl rather than a tray of embryos, this is because the little girl would suffer terror and horrible pain while the embryos would not, and she would have more social status. But that does not mean the embryos are not human beings with equal moral status.

Just as if the fire were at a nursing home, one would save the little girl rather than an aged comatose patient wadded up in bed in a fetal position. But again this does not mean that the aged comatose patient is not a human being of equal moral status. It only means that circumstances determine our decisions.

As for the claim that embryos are but human tissue analogous to human organs used in transplantation, he pointed out that hearts and livers are not "whole living members of the human species." Unlike transplantable organs, an embryo is a complete organism possessing the internal resources for self-directed development into and through all the stages of life --from fetal to adulthood -- with its unity, determinateness, and identity intact.

As for the assertion that the embryo is only potentially human and has life only in the sense that the sperm and ovum that created it have life, the Princeton professor called this sophistry. Each of us was once an embryo, he pointed out, but none of us was ever sperm or ovum. Sperm and ovum are parts of other organisms -- our parents -- and have no capacity toward being a separate organism except when united. This is when the life of a human being begins, when fertilization of sperm and ovum takes place and a new organism is created.

The Princeton professor, whose position is based on ethics more than religion, says that while religion teaches us that we are to reverence life, it does not tell us when life begins. Science does that, and he believes modern embryology has determined that a human life begins at a successful uniting of sperm and egg.

He could hardly believe that some scientists keep saying that the embryo is but part of the mother's body when there is no scientific support for such a view. Embryology has long since exploded the myth that the developing embryo or fetus is a maternal body part. Yes, of course, the embryo is profoundly dependent on its environment – its mother -- for survival, but that is true of all levels of human existence. Even as adults we cease existing if our environment becomes hostile.

The professor posed an ethical thesis that warrants discussion in our churches as well as our universities: "All human beings are equal, and ought not to be harmed or considered to be less than human on the basis of age or size or stage of development or condition of dependency." Life is an ongoing process, he notes, and there is no single moment when life is to be regarded sacred and worthy of human rights. It is sacred and has rights from the outset -- in its embryonic stage -- and is not to be used as a means to an end, not even good ends such as curing diseases or saving other human life. Rights are inherent at all levels of life, he says, embryonic as well as adulthood.

If the Princeton professor is right -- and it appears that he gave his colleagues something to think about -- it is imperative that church and society alike take such issues as genetic engineering and abortion more seriously. We may rightly argue that a woman has the "right to choose" what she does with or to her body, but does she have the right

to take another person's life? And what are we to say of a society that practices abortion even as a means of birth control?

The professor's thesis that the human embryo is a human being -- which has generally been the position of the church catholic – also better informs us as to the nature of our Lord's incarnation. It wasn't at Christmas that "the Word became flesh and dwelt among us," but at the Annunciation -- or more precisely, when Mary virginally conceived of the Holy Spirit and became pregnant.

If you and I were once an embryo -- an embryonic human being – so was our Lord. The eternal Son of God "became flesh" in his mother's womb, just as any other person. He was among us unseen -- hidden within his mother -- during the first stage of his earthly sojourn.

So, the stages of our Lord's life on earth are not to be seen as infancy, childhood, adulthood, but as embryonic, fetal, infancy, childhood, adulthood. The science of embryology upgrades our theology of the incarnation of our Lord.

This conforms to some interesting biblical passages. Isaiah 49:1 refers to the Servant to come as "called from the womb," and Jeremiah 1:4 has God saying to the prophet, "Before I formed you in the womb I called you." The author of Psalms 139 says, "You formed my inward parts; you covered me in my mother's womb." And Paul says God called him from his mother's womb (Gal. 1:15).

It is reassuring that our merciful heavenly Father was watching after us, not only while we were growing up, but even while we were embryos -- embryonic human beings! []

{Copied from “Soldier On! w/ Leroy Garrett”; Occasional Essay 55 (1-8-05)}

(Cecil Hook; February 2005)


TOPICS: Business/Economy; Culture/Society; Editorial; Government; Philosophy
KEYWORDS: bioethics; healthcare; prolife; religion; science; technology
Of course, the Princeton professor is Robert P. George, one of the true geniuses of today, and a member of the President's Bioethics Council.
1 posted on 02/23/2005 12:43:26 PM PST by hocndoc
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To: hocndoc

One professor insisted that since the embryo has neither a heart, lungs, brain or nervous system it is irrational to view it as a human being.

What an ignoramus bonehead. And people actually take out mortgages to pay for this as "education"? Amazing. What liberal garbage!

2 posted on 02/23/2005 12:47:52 PM PST by HowlinglyMind-BendingAbsurdity
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To: Mr. Silverback; MHGinTN; Coleus; cpforlife.org

Please read and ping!


3 posted on 02/23/2005 12:54:08 PM PST by hocndoc (Choice is the # 1 killer in the US)
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To: HowlinglyMind-BendingAbsurdity
Psalm 139:13-16
For thou hast
possessed my reins:
thou hast covered me
in my mother's womb.
I will praise thee;
for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvellous are thy works;
and that my soul knoweth right well.
My substance was not hid from thee,
when I was made in secret,
and curiously wrought in the lowest parts of the earth.
Thine eyes did see my substance, yet being unperfect;
and in thy book all my members were written,
which in continuance were fashioned,
when as yet there was none of them.

4 posted on 02/23/2005 1:02:15 PM PST by PaxMacian
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To: 2nd amendment mama; A2J; Agitate; Alouette; Annie03; aposiopetic; attagirl; axel f; Balto_Boy; ...

ProLife Ping!

If anyone wants on or off my ProLife Ping List, please notify me here or by freepmail.

5 posted on 02/23/2005 1:04:58 PM PST by Mr. Silverback (Chrome wheeled, fuel injected and steppin' out over the line)
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To: NYer; Salvation; Aquinasfan; Mr. Silverback; Land of the Irish; AAABEST; narses; thor76; ...

Genocide ping.


6 posted on 02/23/2005 1:06:49 PM PST by HowlinglyMind-BendingAbsurdity
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To: hocndoc; 2ndMostConservativeBrdMember; afraidfortherepublic; Alas; al_c; american colleen; ...


7 posted on 02/23/2005 1:15:18 PM PST by Coleus (I support ethical, effective and safe stem cell research and use: adult, umbilical cord, bone marrow)
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To: hocndoc

Reading this ... will be back shortly.


8 posted on 02/23/2005 1:44:50 PM PST by MHGinTN (If you can read this, you've had life support from someone. Promote life support for others.)
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To: hocndoc
and is not to be used as a means to an end, not even good ends such as curing diseases or saving other human life.

Mr. George makes many good arguments, but on this one he is wrong. Taking life can be justified. One cannot be pro-life and conclude otherwise. Anyone who, for example, would not sacrifice one person to save ten isn't pro-life IMO. Certainly it would be an agonizing decision, but to do otherwise is moral cowardice.

But the key point is that taking life (or any other action for that matter) must be justified. All outcomes and alternatives must be weighed. IMO, embryonic stem cell research is not justified at this time except on existing cell lines as the president has determined.

9 posted on 02/23/2005 2:08:24 PM PST by edsheppa
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To: hocndoc

BTW, do you know of any books or articles by Mr. George? I search Amazon but didn't find any.


10 posted on 02/23/2005 2:09:12 PM PST by edsheppa
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To: The Mayor

Ping!


11 posted on 02/23/2005 2:20:55 PM PST by TAdams8591 (The call you make may be the one that saves Terri's life!!!!!!)
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To: edsheppa

I disagree. That way lies polgroms, genocide and the tyranny we face in abortion on demand and unrestricted (except in funding) embryonic research.

The only legitimate reason to kill is to prevent the one killed from killing, and then only if there is no other way to prevent the killing. No "ifs," "ands," and "buts." That is the meaning of "inalienable."

However, we humans are not perfect. We do not have omniscience, and often do not see the present as it is. So, we make mistakes, there is "collateral damage," and even the death penalty and war can be justified (as well as condemned) by our fallibility. Our fallen-ness.


12 posted on 02/23/2005 2:45:09 PM PST by hocndoc (Choice is the # 1 killer in the US)
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To: hocndoc

Personally, I would have saved the little girl and the embryos, the idiot professor would be on his own.


13 posted on 02/23/2005 2:47:23 PM PST by jwalsh07
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To: edsheppa
Mr. George makes many good arguments, but on this one he is wrong. Taking life can be justified. One cannot be pro-life and conclude otherwise. Anyone who, for example, would not sacrifice one person to save ten isn't pro-life IMO. Certainly it would be an agonizing decision, but to do otherwise is moral cowardice.

He addresses your hypothetical in the article by making distinctions between social and moral choices one may have to make. ANd he does it quite well.

14 posted on 02/23/2005 2:49:37 PM PST by jwalsh07
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To: edsheppa

Professor George wrote "Clash of Orthodoxies." He is also quoted quite a bit on the website of the President's Bioethics Council.

I first became aware of Prof. George when he debated stem cells with Ron Bailey (and with the aide of Patrick Lee) in National Review.
http://www.nationalreview.com/comment/comment-george072001.shtml

Here's a page with more links and reviews:

http://www.ajgoddard.net/Writers/Robert_P__George/robert_p__george.html


15 posted on 02/23/2005 3:03:14 PM PST by hocndoc (Choice is the # 1 killer in the US)
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To: hocndoc

Is there anyone here on FR who believes non-embryonic stem cells will eventually lead to a cure for diabetes? This is not a firebomb question....I really want to know.


16 posted on 02/23/2005 3:08:08 PM PST by Lizavetta (Modern liberalism: Where everyone must look different but think the same.)
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To: jwalsh07

Here's another argument that Professor George makes well, from a "First Things" symposium on "Killing Abortionists: A Symposium."

http://www.ajgoddard.net/Writers/Robert_P__George/robert_p__george.html
""I am personally opposed to killing abortionists. However, inasmuch as my personal opposition to this practice is rooted in a sectarian (Catholic) religious belief in the sanctity of human life, I am unwilling to impose it on others who may, as a matter of conscience, take a different view. Of course, I am entirely in favor of policies aimed at removing the root causes of violence against abortionists. Indeed, I would go so far as to support mandatory one-week waiting periods, and even nonjudgmental counseling, for people who are contemplating the choice of killing an abortionist. I believe in policies that reduce the urgent need some people feel to kill abortionists while, at the same time, respecting the rights of conscience of my fellow citizens who believe that the killing of abortionists is sometimes a tragic necessity-not a good, but a lesser evil. In short, I am moderately pro-choice.

Robert P. George is Professor of Politics at Princeton University and author, most recently, of Making Men Moral: Civil Liberties and Public Morality.""


17 posted on 02/23/2005 3:08:42 PM PST by hocndoc (Choice is the # 1 killer in the US)
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To: TAdams8591; hocndoc

Great article, Thanks for the ping!

The Mrs will want to read this..


18 posted on 02/23/2005 3:39:49 PM PST by The Mayor (http://www.RusThompson.com)
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To: hocndoc
"He could hardly believe that some scientists keep saying that the embryo is but part of the mother's body when there is no scientific support for such a view."

Remarkable. Even those versed in only the basics of Biology KNOW this. I suggest the professors also know but choose to lie about it to achieve their personal political agendas.

19 posted on 02/23/2005 3:47:46 PM PST by TAdams8591 (The call you make may be the one that saves Terri's life!!!!!!)
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To: hocndoc
That way lies [pogroms], genocide ...

Well, I suppose such could be justified but the conditions would obviously have to be most extreme. One could imagine, for example, a religious sect given to terror tactics and who have demonstrated the capacity to do it. A pogrom against this sect would be justified. But perhaps not - you need to look at the alternatives.

[The only legitimate reason to kill is to prevent the one killed from killing] vs. [and even the death penalty and war can be justified ... by our fallibility]

That is an incoherent argument.

20 posted on 02/23/2005 3:58:36 PM PST by edsheppa
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To: jwalsh07
He addresses your hypothetical in the article by making distinctions between social and moral choices one may have to make. ANd he does it quite well.

I didn't find it convincing. I should think all conservatives would agree that in the hierarchy of choice, moral choice must trump social choice.

21 posted on 02/23/2005 4:06:36 PM PST by edsheppa
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To: edsheppa

Read all of the posts at the First Things link above for some of my reasoning.

BTW, you forgot the "however" clause I had in the middle of my argument. It was very important: we are not perfect, we make mistakes, we can't know what will happen, our aim is bad ....... sometimes we can't even believe our eyes.....

(I'm going to be away from the computer for the night.)


22 posted on 02/23/2005 4:24:30 PM PST by hocndoc (Choice is the # 1 killer in the US)
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To: hocndoc
I didn't forget it. It doesn't make any sense. Human fallibility can justify nothing although it explains many things.

You mention, for example, collateral damage. Certainly it is explained by our limitations, but it is justified by the non-collateral damage.

23 posted on 02/23/2005 6:23:15 PM PST by edsheppa
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To: Lizavetta

Which type? ... Even successful embryo stem cell therapy won't cure both in a best day. But to kill a living human for body parts is cannibalism, didn't you know?


24 posted on 02/23/2005 8:35:16 PM PST by MHGinTN (If you can read this, you've had life support from someone. Promote life support for others.)
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To: edsheppa

I was using a loose definition of "justify," and should have used your word, "explain."


25 posted on 02/23/2005 10:02:22 PM PST by hocndoc (Choice is the # 1 killer in the US)
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To: Lizavetta

We are already treating diabetes with transplants obtained from cadavers and there has been at least one report of live-donor transplants of the Beta cells that produce insulin. There is strong evidence that there are endogenous stem cells even in insulin dependent diabetics and we hope to find the trigger needed to stimulate them to grow and produce insulin.

And, I believe that we have only glimpsed the possibilities of placental and umbilical cord (non-embryonic) stem cells. If we can stimulate a cell made up of donor DNA and an enucleated oocyte (cloning by SCNT) to divide and differentiate into just the cells and just the amounts that we want without creating a tumor, then my imagination says that we can de-differentiate somatic cells, without returning the cells to any point that could conceivably be "a whole organism at the earliest stage of life."


26 posted on 02/23/2005 10:10:53 PM PST by hocndoc (Choice is the # 1 killer in the US)
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To: edsheppa

More on justification:

Collateral damage is not actually "justified" in the strictest sense by the intended result. To believe so relies on utilitarian thinking, or "the greatest good for the greatest number of people."

Think of the doctrine of double effect. If you are threatened by an aggressor with a loaded gun who is using a child as a shield, you have the right to shoot the aggressor with a bullet before they shoot you, especially if you believe - and intend - that it will also save the child. It would be wrong to intentionally shoot through the child to kill the aggressor. It would not be wrong to shoot if you believe that you have a clear shot, even though there is a chance that the aggressor will put the child in the way of the bullet, that there is a chance that the child will move unexpectedly, or even that there is a chance that the child will be hit when the bullet passes through the aggressor and ricochets back toward the child. In the first case, you intended to harm the child. In the latter, he is harmed because the aggressor put him in harm's way. (But, I'd bet that your conscience would still bother you.)

A more relevant example would be that it would be wrong for *you* to use a child as a shield or a weapon when your life is threatened by a bad guy.


As humans, we engage in a sort of triage of ethics, knowing that some will die and some will live because of our actions. But we must have the intention of "First, do no harm" before and guiding our wish to do good.

Sometimes, as in the case of the bombing of cities where terrorists are based, or the attempted killing of Hitler in WWII, or the bombings of Japan, we use force that we know will kill. But, we must do our best to intend and to do what we can to protect innocent lives. And, we must be willing to accept the consequences of our actions if we infringe on the rights of others.

One problem I see with abortionists and researchers who kill embryos is the attempt to avoid responsibility for consequences, by denying that the people killed have inalienable rights, or redefining people" and use the force of law to protect them.

They, in effect, use "people" as a shield while threatening other humans they deem as not people.


27 posted on 02/23/2005 11:00:54 PM PST by hocndoc (Choice is the # 1 killer in the US)
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To: hocndoc
Collateral damage is not actually "justified" in the strictest sense by the intended result.

True. Strictly speaking, it is the bombing that is justified by weighing the consequences of the alternatives, collateral damage being one of them. But I think it's fair to think also of the consequences of the alternative chosen as being justified too.

But we must have the intention of "First, do no harm" before and guiding our wish to do good.

IMO wrong again. One's intention should be to do the least harm or, equivalently, the most good.

In fact, you contradict yourself and agree with my sentiment in your next paragraph - you cannot intend to do no harm by bombing Hiroshima. Truman intended great harm, arguably to many "innocent" Japanese, but only in order to avoid greater harm.

28 posted on 02/23/2005 11:55:37 PM PST by edsheppa
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To: hocndoc

My brother who is a scientist has told me that they have CURED diabetes in mice by taking stem cells from their own fat cells, doing to them whatever it is scientists do, and injecting them into the mice at which time they became insulin producing beta cells. CURED. He feels that in less than 20 years time there will be a cure for humans.


29 posted on 02/24/2005 7:17:26 AM PST by Lizavetta (Modern liberalism: Where everyone must look different but think the same.)
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