Monday, April 21, 2008

Life as Raw Material

In an opinion piece in today's Dallas Morning News, oncologist Fazlur Rahman argues in favor of expanding embryonic stem cell research. However, even while arguing that developing this research is important for increasing the public's perception of the importance of science, Dr. Rahman is guilty of sloppy scientific reasoning.

For one thing, Dr. Rahman carefully crafts his language in order to use a successful treatment using adult stem cells as a rationale for further experimentation on embryonic stem cells. These are two entirely different matters: various treatments using adult stem cells have been shown to be effective for years, while the efficacy of embryonic stem cell treatment remains entirely theoretical at this point. In spite of that latter fact, the author of the column speaks confidently as though it is already certain that these admittedly flexible, but as yet unharnessable, stem cells can be controlled in the development of treatments. In addition, he dismisses the ethical significance of experimentation using tiny human beings (the DNA, not the size of the life, is paramount here) that he says would be destroyed any way, but manages to avoid discussing what would happen should treatments be proved successful. At that point, it would become necessary to mass produce embryos to have an adequate supply of raw materials.

The potential of the alchemist could be nearly irrestible to the midieval mind, but modern researchers may ultimately find that they have taken something of great value (human life) and only produced fool's gold. In the process, we will have lost something of our humanity.

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