Apparently protecting embryos is more extreme than severing babies’ spines.

Pro-choice
activists mock the most socially unpalatable aspects of the pro-life position.
Broadly speaking, pro-lifers believe human life is morally relevant when the
human organism begins: as a zygote. This means we oppose killing not only fetuses,
but also embryos and zygotes. And so, while we primarily object to surgical
abortion, many of us also object to embryonic stem cell (ESC) research, contraception
that prevents implantation, and aspects of in vitro fertilization (IVF)—all processes
the public tends to be a lot more okay with than abortion.
Pro-choicers
like to emphasize these objections, implying or outright saying we’re out-of-touch
zealots with whacked priorities. They paint a dystopian picture where women
can’t access the most common forms of contraception, people keep suffering from
ailments ESC could have cured, and infertile couples have nowhere to turn. They
usually go further and suggest we want
people to suffer in various ways, or at least we are indifferent to suffering
as we elevate the welfare of microscopic one-celled “seeds” over everyone else.
I have
plenty of problems with these assertions. It’s obnoxious when people ignore
your stated motivation in favor of the secret more sinister motivation they’re
sure you have. It’s equivocating to try to claim motivation is more about
effect than intent. And the dystopian predictions require a whole host of
assumptions beyond “zygotes are morally relevant” to actually come true.
But what
annoys me most is the hypocrisy.
If zygotes
are morally relevant, pro-lifers have to argue for socially unpopular opinions,
like that certain forms of contraception may be immoral. That’s true. But if
fetal life is morally irrelevant,
pro-choicers have to defend (or, more typically, wholly ignore) socially
unpopular realities, like that healthy
women abort healthy fetuses
4 months into pregnancy and beyond thousands of
times a year
. They abort fetuses developed enough that Planned Parenthood
can harvest
intact organs
. They abort fetuses developed enough to sometimes survive
the abortion by accident
.
Most Americans
consider contraception morally
acceptable
; they’d likely be averse to a worldview that takes a moral stand
against certain forms of it. But at the same time, most Americans recoil at the
idea of late-term abortion of healthy fetuses carried by healthy women. I think
many simply don’t realize how extreme the American version of abortion rights
is. (Other first world countries have abortion laws more restrictive
than our own.)
Moreover,
when darkly predicting what pro-lifers want to do about contraception, ESC, and
IVF, pro-choicers are theorizing about what could
happen someday if XYZ factors come to
pass. But the dismemberment of late term fetuses is happening now. It’s
already a reality, and it’s not even a secret.

Remember last year when Carly Fiorina said
this
regarding the CMP videos?
Fiorina got
a lot of flack for allegedly making things up, but pay attention to the
nature of the objections
. People were quick to point out that the CMP
videos never had a scene exactly as Fiorina described. So the objection was
“There isn’t specific video footage of what she said!” The objection was not “Planned Parenthood never harvested
the brains of fetuses who were developed enough to have a heartbeat or kick
their legs.” You know why? Because Planned Parenthood has done that. They don’t
even deny it.
The entire
CMP controversy is a great example of pro-choicers ignoring the most perverse
aspects of the American pro-choice stance. The rampant accusations of edited
footage and public deception all focus on whether PP profited in their exchange of fetal organs for money, not on whether they
harvest fetal organs from late-term fetuses. They do. But sure, let’s talk more
about what
might happen with the copper IUD
and ignore that we’re ripping babies
apart.
(Yes, I said
“babies.” I get objecting to calling a zygote or blastocyst a “baby” because of
the completely different imagery the word brings to people’s minds. But when
I’m talking about fetuses at
this level
?
Objecting to calling ^that a baby is, to me, just another way of trying really hard to
pretend this isn’t happening.)
The typical
pro-choice defense here is that late-term abortions are due to fatal fetal
abnormalities or threats to the mother’s life. It’s no doubt true that,
proportionally, late-term abortions are more likely to be for those reasons
than earlier term abortions are. But what research we can find indicates most late-term abortions aren’t done for those reasons. Pro-choice activists try to use heartbreaking
stories of planned pregnancies gone horribly wrong to sidestep the more common
scenario of healthy late term fetuses aborted in far less dire situations.
For the most
part Americans seem to take the “abortion is a necessary evil” perspective. On
average, Americans think early term abortion ought to be legal but remain divided
on its morality
and resistant to late-term abortion. And yet we already
have the regular destruction of fetuses who were so developed all but the most
insistent pro-choicers would recognize them as babies.
(Source)
How much
darker would things get if more of America moved from a pro-choice perspective to a pro-abortion one? We’re not even getting
into what could happen if our society switched from “abortion: the necessary
evil” to “abortion: the responsible, empowering, moral choice.” We’ve already
had glimpses of that world, with issues like renaming
“infanticide” as “after-birth abortion,”
claiming that “killing a newborn baby is
never equivalent to killing a person
,” and resisting requirements to try to save the lives of babies who accidentally survive
abortion.
And this is
what I mean by hypocrisy – pro-choicers bash us for being concerned about
aspects of IVF, but what does the average American have a bigger problem with?
IVF clinics possibly shutting down someday, or people tearing
babies’ legs off
now? Which
worldview really has the extreme repercussions here?
Note I’m not
saying pro-choice people are all okay with late-term elective abortion. I
think–and polls
back me up–that most of them are pretty uncomfortable with it. But I am saying it’s a fact of the American pro-choice
political platform. And late-term elective abortion isn’t the only extreme
aspect of this platform.
This is the platform
that forgives Planned Parenthood for failing
to report
or, worse, covering
up
rape and sex
trafficking
. It’s the platform that has inspired Sanders
to vote multiple times against criminal penalties for harming a fetus during
the commission of a crime. It’s the platform that had Obama voting against
legislation to protect preterm infants who accidentally survive abortion—because
such protections would “undermine Roe v.
Wade
.”
Do you
follow that? What does it say about American abortion rights if they’re threatened
by specifying legal protection to born
babies whose parents had wanted to abort? Obama isn’t the only one who sees the
problem. When Gosnell was found guilty of severing
the spinal cords
of born babies, some abortion rights supporters objected
to him being charged with murder
—because what he’d done was so similar to
late-term abortion. You’d think this similarity would suggest a problem with
late-term abortion, but apparently instead it’s a problem with how society
reacts to killing born babies. We are through the looking glass here, guys, and it’s not the pro-life side that pushed us there.
And while
most pro-choicers wouldn’t go so far as to outright defend Gosnell’s
infanticide, plenty did follow the same strategy they typically follow when we
get to the edges of the pro-choice position: “If
we just don’t talk about this
, maybe it will go away. Let’s keep pretending
our defense of abortion has no relation to literal murder.
Maybe we should write a snarky blog about how pro-lifers are suspicious of the
Pill.”

I think the
most relevant abortion debates take an unblinking look at early term abortion
and discuss its many moral, legal, and social factors. But I don’t think every
single abortion debate has to focus on only the most common forms of it. I think it’s fair to look at the trickier, less socially acceptable implications
of a perspective (be it defense of zygotes or lack of defense of newborns). But if pro-choicers are going to scrutinize the edges of our
side, they should have the courage to look as critically at their own. 

Apparently protecting embryos is more extreme than severing babies’ spines.

Pro-choice
activists mock the most socially unpalatable aspects of the pro-life position.
Broadly speaking, pro-lifers believe human life is morally relevant when the
human organism begins: as a zygote. This means we oppose killing not only fetuses,
but also embryos and zygotes. And so, while we primarily object to surgical
abortion, many of us also object to embryonic stem cell (ESC) research, contraception
that prevents implantation, and aspects of in vitro fertilization (IVF)—all processes
the public tends to be a lot more okay with than abortion.
Pro-choicers
like to emphasize these objections, implying or outright saying we’re out-of-touch
zealots with whacked priorities. They paint a dystopian picture where women
can’t access the most common forms of contraception, people keep suffering from
ailments ESC could have cured, and infertile couples have nowhere to turn. They
usually go further and suggest we want
people to suffer in various ways, or at least we are indifferent to suffering
as we elevate the welfare of microscopic one-celled “seeds” over everyone else.
I have
plenty of problems with these assertions. It’s obnoxious when people ignore
your stated motivation in favor of the secret more sinister motivation they’re
sure you have. It’s equivocating to try to claim motivation is more about
effect than intent. And the dystopian predictions require a whole host of
assumptions beyond “zygotes are morally relevant” to actually come true.
But what
annoys me most is the hypocrisy.
If zygotes
are morally relevant, pro-lifers have to argue for socially unpopular opinions,
like that certain forms of contraception may be immoral. That’s true. But if
fetal life is morally irrelevant,
pro-choicers have to defend (or, more typically, wholly ignore) socially
unpopular realities, like that healthy
women abort healthy fetuses
4 months into pregnancy and beyond thousands of
times a year
. They abort fetuses developed enough that Planned Parenthood
can harvest
intact organs
. They abort fetuses developed enough to sometimes survive
the abortion by accident
.
Most Americans
consider contraception morally
acceptable
; they’d likely be averse to a worldview that takes a moral stand
against certain forms of it. But at the same time, most Americans recoil at the
idea of late-term abortion of healthy fetuses carried by healthy women. I think
many simply don’t realize how extreme the American version of abortion rights
is. (Other first world countries have abortion laws more restrictive
than our own.)
Moreover,
when darkly predicting what pro-lifers want to do about contraception, ESC, and
IVF, pro-choicers are theorizing about what could
happen someday if XYZ factors come to
pass. But the dismemberment of late term fetuses is happening now. It’s
already a reality, and it’s not even a secret.

Remember last year when Carly Fiorina said
this
regarding the CMP videos?
Fiorina got
a lot of flack for allegedly making things up, but pay attention to the
nature of the objections
. People were quick to point out that the CMP
videos never had a scene exactly as Fiorina described. So the objection was
“There isn’t specific video footage of what she said!” The objection was not “Planned Parenthood never harvested
the brains of fetuses who were developed enough to have a heartbeat or kick
their legs.” You know why? Because Planned Parenthood has done that. They don’t
even deny it.
The entire
CMP controversy is a great example of pro-choicers ignoring the most perverse
aspects of the American pro-choice stance. The rampant accusations of edited
footage and public deception all focus on whether PP profited in their exchange of fetal organs for money, not on whether they
harvest fetal organs from late-term fetuses. They do. But sure, let’s talk more
about what
might happen with the copper IUD
and ignore that we’re ripping babies
apart.
(Yes, I said
“babies.” I get objecting to calling a zygote or blastocyst a “baby” because of
the completely different imagery the word brings to people’s minds. But when
I’m talking about fetuses at
this level
?
Objecting to calling ^that a baby is, to me, just another way of trying really hard to
pretend this isn’t happening.)
The typical
pro-choice defense here is that late-term abortions are due to fatal fetal
abnormalities or threats to the mother’s life. It’s no doubt true that,
proportionally, late-term abortions are more likely to be for those reasons
than earlier term abortions are. But what research we can find indicates most late-term abortions aren’t done for those reasons. Pro-choice activists try to use heartbreaking
stories of planned pregnancies gone horribly wrong to sidestep the more common
scenario of healthy late term fetuses aborted in far less dire situations.
For the most
part Americans seem to take the “abortion is a necessary evil” perspective. On
average, Americans think early term abortion ought to be legal but remain divided
on its morality
and resistant to late-term abortion. And yet we already
have the regular destruction of fetuses who were so developed all but the most
insistent pro-choicers would recognize them as babies.
(Source)
How much
darker would things get if more of America moved from a pro-choice perspective to a pro-abortion one? We’re not even getting
into what could happen if our society switched from “abortion: the necessary
evil” to “abortion: the responsible, empowering, moral choice.” We’ve already
had glimpses of that world, with issues like renaming
“infanticide” as “after-birth abortion,”
claiming that “killing a newborn baby is
never equivalent to killing a person
,” and resisting requirements to try to save the lives of babies who accidentally survive
abortion.
And this is
what I mean by hypocrisy – pro-choicers bash us for being concerned about
aspects of IVF, but what does the average American have a bigger problem with?
IVF clinics possibly shutting down someday, or people tearing
babies’ legs off
now? Which
worldview really has the extreme repercussions here?
Note I’m not
saying pro-choice people are all okay with late-term elective abortion. I
think–and polls
back me up–that most of them are pretty uncomfortable with it. But I am saying it’s a fact of the American pro-choice
political platform. And late-term elective abortion isn’t the only extreme
aspect of this platform.
This is the platform
that forgives Planned Parenthood for failing
to report
or, worse, covering
up
rape and sex
trafficking
. It’s the platform that has inspired Sanders
to vote multiple times against criminal penalties for harming a fetus during
the commission of a crime. It’s the platform that had Obama voting against
legislation to protect preterm infants who accidentally survive abortion—because
such protections would “undermine Roe v.
Wade
.”
Do you
follow that? What does it say about American abortion rights if they’re threatened
by specifying legal protection to born
babies whose parents had wanted to abort? Obama isn’t the only one who sees the
problem. When Gosnell was found guilty of severing
the spinal cords
of born babies, some abortion rights supporters objected
to him being charged with murder
—because what he’d done was so similar to
late-term abortion. You’d think this similarity would suggest a problem with
late-term abortion, but apparently instead it’s a problem with how society
reacts to killing born babies. We are through the looking glass here, guys, and it’s not the pro-life side that pushed us there.
And while
most pro-choicers wouldn’t go so far as to outright defend Gosnell’s
infanticide, plenty did follow the same strategy they typically follow when we
get to the edges of the pro-choice position: “If
we just don’t talk about this
, maybe it will go away. Let’s keep pretending
our defense of abortion has no relation to literal murder.
Maybe we should write a snarky blog about how pro-lifers are suspicious of the
Pill.”

I think the
most relevant abortion debates take an unblinking look at early term abortion
and discuss its many moral, legal, and social factors. But I don’t think every
single abortion debate has to focus on only the most common forms of it. I think it’s fair to look at the trickier, less socially acceptable implications
of a perspective (be it defense of zygotes or lack of defense of newborns). But if pro-choicers are going to scrutinize the edges of our
side, they should have the courage to look as critically at their own. 

A bioethical question

I recently had an interesting exchange with Ray P., a Secular Pro-Life member and scientist whose current project involves the study of gestational diabetes and insulin production. Of course, I’m thrilled to see an SPL member working to improve maternal health. But Ray has an ethical conundrum: many scientists in his field use cell lines derived from abortion victims.

With his permission, I am sharing our conversation, and I encourage you all to share your thoughts on the matter.

Ray began:

I’m curious if SPL has ever covered the topic of using cell lines and/or tissue derived from aborted fetuses for the use of scientific study, and I’m not referring to human embryonic stem cells, but rather cell lines such as HEK293. They are shockingly common in much of the scientific community, and I try to go out of my way to avoid them (I do not know what exactly yours or SPL’s stance is on this particular issue, but please know I am not trying to be judgmental regardless of the case). That said, the scientific community is extremely interconnected, and indirectly contributing to or benefiting from the study of cells and tissues from aborted fetuses seems inevitable at times. Believe me when I say the issue weighs on me heavily at times, and I would love to hear other people’s thoughts on the matter.

I replied: 

That’s a fascinating question, and SPL has never addressed it before. I’m not familiar with HEK293, but it occurs to me that there may be an analogy to HeLa. There’s no doubt that HeLa was obtained without the family’s consent, and that this violates modern principles of medical ethics. But HeLa is ubiquitous, and when a researcher uses HeLa, it is not taken as an endorsement of its origins. Of course, as pro-lifers, we affirm that killing an unborn child is a much greater wrong than failing to get consent before using a deceased person’s tumor for research.  

“Thinking out loud” here: can we pinpoint exactly what is objectionable about HEK293? Fetal cells aren’t objectionable in and of themselves; if a woman suffered a miscarriage and decided to donate her baby’s body to science, that would be laudable. So clearly the problem is with the way the child died. Of course, it’s not as though the child was aborted for the purpose of creating HEK293. How do we feel about research on other victims of violence? If an adult murder victim’s family chose to donate the body to science, again, I think that would be laudable. But what if it were a domestic violence situation, and the person giving consent and the person responsible for the death were one and the same? Ah, now we’ve hit on the problem.  If you chose to kill the person, and then you donate the person’s body to science, it hardly seems like a noble sacrifice.  It seems just plain creepy.  And so it is with the mother who graciously allows researchers to use cells from the baby she aborted.

So I think you’re right to avoid HEK293 to the extent that you can.

Ray responded with some more details on HEK293 and its alternatives:

Thank you for your thoughts on cell lines from aborted fetuses, it’s great to hear more thoughts on the matter, and I’ll also provide more background information in the following few sentences if you’re curious to learn more. HEK293 cells were derived from an abortion performed in the Netherlands in the early 1970s. To put it simply, they were created by breaking up the kidney tissue of the fetus into individual cells, then introducing genes from a virus into some of those cells which will make those cells replicate indefinitely.  Much of the information regarding the initial abortion has been lost to time, but those involved with the creation of the cell line believe that it was a purely elective abortion. [To clarify, all HEK293 cells are derived from this single abortion.] They are an extremely popular cell line in many scientific labs for many reasons, most notable of which they are very good at making a lot of protein. This is very useful if you want to purify large quantities of a certain protein for other studies, or if you wanted to study what your protein of interest did within the context of a living cell. Not only that, but because they are derived from human tissue, scientists generally see the study of these cells as having a closer link to human physiology than studying a cell line from another animal.

There are a few caveats with these cells, however. The biggest of which is no one knows what kind of kidney cell they actually are. After being extensively modified and manipulated (and even after probably undergoing some natural evolution of their own), they are very different from any kidney cell you would actually ever find in a living person (fetus or otherwise). Furthermore, it is generally accepted in the field that studying a decades old cell line is inferior to studying a cell line “freshly” derived (say, from a recent autopsy) or even from a living animal model. For this reason, HEK293 cells really aren’t used to study kidney cells terribly often. Like I mentioned earlier, they are more commonly used to create vast quantities of a particular protein or simply to create a cellular environment to study a protein in.  

Furthermore, many other cell lines have been used for the exact same purposes as HEK293. A very common example is the CHO cell line, which are made from cells from a chinese hamster ovary (hence CHO). Like HEK293 cells, CHO cells replicate indefinitely and are very good at making proteins. Sometimes people will argue that HEK293 cells and CHO cells each have their own strengths, but to be completely blunt everything that I’ve ever read on the two cell lines indicate they are essentially interchangeable under most circumstances (which, aside from moral reasons, is why I will be using CHO cells in a portion of my research instead of HEK293). From my experience, the biggest factor that determines if a lab will use HEK293 cells or CHO cells is which cell line is more easily accessible at that particular moment and if anyone in the lab already knows how to use one or the other (both are very easy to obtain and use). Even if you’re studying a human protein, HEK293 cells aren’t necessarily the best choice.

From my personal experience, I have encountered numerous scientists who didn’t even know the origin of HEK293 cells. I, for one, did not know for several years after I learned of their existence, and even a tenured faculty member I know was shocked when I told her of their origin (who has since vowed not to use them anymore).  That said, I certainly don’t think the majority of scientists would stop using them even if they did. 

In addition to cell lines such as HEK293, tissues from aborted fetuses are often used to study the development of human organs, as it allows snapshots of an organ at different stages of fetal life. Likewise, sometimes a fetus is aborted due to a certain birth defect, and in those cases the tissue may be harvested to study rare genetic diseases and conditions.

You brought up the example of HeLa cells in your email, which, as you mentioned, obtained and used without the permission of either the patient they were taken from or that of her family. While this is a blatant disregard of patients rights and a clear moral violation, I also feel this is less serious than using cells from aborted fetuses. After all, HeLa cells were obtained while the patient was being treated for her cancer, and she was not harmed through or by their creation, and I thus feel it is morally acceptable to use HeLa cells.

The morality of benefiting from cell lines created from abortions, as you implied, is much more complicated. Many other cell lines are also created from aborted fetuses, including several that are used to make vaccines, including the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine. This issue, I feel, is more complicated than using HEK293 cells in the lab. In my situation, I can choose to study a different cell line to further the same research goals. Thus, in my opinion, it is not morally acceptable to use HEK293 cells for research. 

However, in terms of medicine, often times the only vaccine available is created from cell lines from aborted fetuses. My personal opinion in this case is that it is morally acceptable to receive (at least some) of these vaccines as the alternative consequence is often an immediate and severe health risk for both the individual and the community. That said, I still believe it is our moral duty to demand a morally acceptable alternative be created.

But you also raised an excellent point of other cell lines derived from human tissue. Although considerably more rare, I do believe that cell lines derived from spontaneous miscarriages are certainly morally acceptable, as this was the result of a natural death.  

But then you raised the point of using cells or tissues derived from victims of an act of violence (such as murder, or maybe even a drunk driver) – this is an extremely relevant remark as it is what led me to ask you my original question. My knee jerk reaction is that “yes”, it would be acceptable, if not even noble, to use cells or tissues derived from the victim of murder or drunk driving, even if the actions that brought those results are downright evil. How this is different from using cells and tissues from an abortion, I cannot say – it just seems “different” to me in ways that are difficult for me to currently articulate. A similar question would be to ask if it is morally acceptable to use cells and tissues derived from a death row inmate. As I regard capital punishment as almost universally evil, my immediate response to that would be “no” – but even then, the situation seems different in some ways than abortion or a victim of domestic violence/drunk driving.  

I feel a good example (that is sadly true) is in the original study of Clara cells done in the late 1930s. Clara cells are found in the lung, and are named after the scientist who discovered them, Max Clara. Tragically, Max Clara was actually a Nazi doctor who discovered Clara cells by studying the bodies of Holocaust victims. I have little doubt that if we were to ask Max Clara how he could live with what he had done, he would simply state that those Holocaust victims would have died anyways, and he was simply utilizing the tissue. Today, of course, scientists regard his original studies as sick and twisted, and no knowledge gained justified being complicit with that tragedy. Again, I ask myself, what exactly separates using tissues of Holocaust victims and using tissues of victims of domestic violence and drunk driving? And again, I do not know – although the situations feel very different none the less. Forgive me for introducing Godwin’s Law into the discussion, but I feel I need to remember the past tragedies of scientists so I do not repeat them, there are sadly more examples than just those we mentioned in our emails.

Readers, any further thoughts for Ray and other pro-life scientists wrestling with these questions?

Adult stem cell researchers awarded Nobel Prize

John Gurdon and Shinya Yamanaka received the Nobel Prize in Medicine for their pioneering work in adult stem cell research, the Washington Post reports.

Yamanaka was instrumental in the development of induced pluripotent stem cells (IPSC), which act like embryonic stem cells but are created without killing an embryo.  His work built upon animal cloning experiments that Gurdon conducted in 1962.

IPSC technology not only has ethical advantages over embryonic stem cells, but also holds greater promise for patients.  Scientists hope that IPSC technology will one day be used to create custom replacement organs from the patient’s own cells.  That would eliminate the risk of organ rejection that plagues both embryo-based treatments and traditional organ transplants.

In short, Gurdon and Yamanaka are responsible for a major scientific development that could render the debate over embryo-destructive research obsolete and save countless lives.  We extend them our congratulations and thanks.

The Tiniest Patients

MSNBC covers the story of Addison Hope Kelly.  When Addison was a fetus around 6 months gestation, ultrasound revealed she had a tumor between her heart and lungs, making it unlikely that Addison would survive.  Addison’s parents chose fetal surgery, which would give Addison a 50/50 chance of survival.  Although the process caused Mary Kelly, Addison’s mother, to go into early labor, ultimately Addison survived.  She is now 5 years old and will begin kindergarten this fall.

The article goes on to discuss the increase in fetal surgery over the past years and the improvements researchers are expecting in years to come.

Dr. Alan Flake, director of CHOP’s Center for Fetal Research, is working with stem cells from adult bone marrow to develop a treatment for the blood disorder sickle-cell anemia that could be administered 12 to 14 weeks into pregnancy. Clinical trials of the therapy should begin in a year or two.
In the longer term, [Dr. Scott Adzick] said, researchers are looking at treating other single-gene disorders that can be diagnosed early in pregnancy.
Finally, Adzick said more work is being done for spina bifida. A tissue-engineering technique could be used to protect the spinal cord opening, essentially working as a “band-aid” early on in pregnancy, with repair being done after birth.

It is amazing to consider what technology is capable of.  It’s also interesting to me that in some cases the fetus is so greatly valued that tremendous resources are used to ensure the highest levels of fetal health and safety, while in other cases the fetus is valued so little that steps are taken to ensure fetal death.  

Implantation vs Fertilization: When does pregnancy begin?

GOP presidential candidate Newt Gingrich has come under fire for his comment that human life begins at implantation, not fertilization. As a scientific matter, he’s plainly wrong. Perhaps he’s been confused by a separate debate: when pregnancy begins.

Much ink has been spilled on the definition of pregnancy. The debate has little or no practical importance, because pro-life advocates are always going to oppose the deliberate destruction of human life, whether or not that destruction also “terminates a pregnancy.” For instance, there is clearly no pregnancy involved in embryonic stem cell research, which pro-life advocates almost universally oppose. Moreover, due to limitations in the current state of medical technology, most women do not become aware of their pregnancies until weeks after both fertilization and implantation have taken place, making it a moot point in the context of abortion. Nevertheless, it is an interesting debate, because it serves as a proxy for pro- and anti-abortion attitudes about pregnancy.

Pro-lifers tend to see pregnancy as a natural stage of life. It is that part of our lives which we spend in the womb, from conception to birth. From this perspective, it seems bizarre to claim that a woman can be carrying a genetically distinct human being in her womb, yet not be pregnant. That is the result, for a few days, if you believe that pregnancy begins at implantation.

By contrast, hard-core abortion supporters tend to view pregnancy as an egregious invasion of women’s bodies. As an example, consider the pregnancy analogy drawn in Judith Jarvis Thomson’s well-known essay “A Defense of Abortion,” in which physical attachment to the body is what allegedly justifies the murder of the famous violinist. When pregnancy is viewed as an invasion rather than a natural part of life, it’s no wonder that abortion advocates define pregnancy as beginning at implantation.

When an abortion advocate engages you on the topic of when pregnancy begins, recognize it as a side issue and redirect the conversation to the core question: when human life begins. And when you do, be sure to know your science better than Newt Gingrich does!

Embryonic Stem Cell Research, Thoughts?

Though we usually focus on abortion, today I’m writing about the Washington Post’s embryonic stem cell research article. Last September, Timothy Atchison received 2 million cells (a small amount) developed from human embryonic stem cells in the effort to reverse his paralysis. He damaged the oligodendrocytes (they insulate the nerves) around his T7 vertebra. They hope that the “stem cells injected into damaged area might develop into oligodendrocytes that could once again sheathe exposed nerves with myelin [emphasis added].”
Though this quote is from the Washington Post, the lack of certainty shown reflects the confidence that this treatment will work without complications. Though I honestly do hope that Timothy recovers function of his legs, I am more concerned about his risk of tumors. This is the first therapy applied to humans after over 25 years of research into creating just this type of cell from mice embryos and ESC treatments for mice are infamous for causing tumors.
I believe that much of the research for this treatment started with the Nistor study (2004) “Human Embryonic Stem Cells Differentiate into Oligodendrocytes in High Purity and Myelinate After Spinal Cord Transplantation.” This study tested the development myelination of Oligodendrocytes in mice after transplants, in effect exactly what Timothy is receiving. Notice that in the title, they pride themselves on their “high purity” rate. In stem cell research, purity is getting all of the stem cells to become what you want them to be.
“Within 1 week, cells with a characteristic oligodendroglial morphology were
evident (Fig. 3a–f), that labeled with GalC (Fig. 3g,h), a marker of oligodendroglia. Quantification of immunostained cultures indicated that 95% +/- 4% of cells labeled
with the oligodendroglial marker GalC (Fig. 4a), 95% +/- 2% of cells labeled with
the oligodendroglial marker RIP (Fig. 4b), and 85% +/- 5% of cells labeled with the oligodendroglial marker 04 (Fig. 4c).”
95% purity sounds pretty good. If it were a grade, it would be an A. However, this indicates that 5% of the cells did not become what was desired. What do these extra cells become? Teratomas, a very nasty sort of tumor.
 
One Israeli child with a degenerative neural condition received injections of fetal neural stem cells in a Russian hospital in an effort to save or improve his life. He was nine. Over the course of four years, he received three transplants, but they did nothing to help him. In 2005, he began to complain of headaches. After receiving an MRI, it was discovered that he had several tumors growing in his brain and spinal column. At fourteen, the tumor in his spinal column was removed and was found to contain both XY and XX DNA. In otherwords, one of the fetuses that “donated” the stem cells was a girl.
 
Though the type of stem cell in that case was different, the risk is much the same. If tumors still grow in Embryonic Stem Cell petri dishes, what’s to prevent them from growing in his spine?
Those are my issues with the matter before we even involve the ethics of ending one life to benefit another. Yes, the embryos from which the cells were gathered were probably going to sit in a freezer their entire life, but does that devalue them? Should they be killed when other alternatives are readily available?
I’m not even talking about adult stem cells, which are pretty cool. There are over 70 adult stem cell treatments (they’ve cured sickle-cell, though it’s hard to find a match). No, Induced Pluripotent Stem cells work almost exactly like embryonic stem cells, without the ethical qualms. Created by adding one gene to a skin cell, Induced Pluripotent Stem cells behave the same way as Embryonic Stem Cells do. They have the same disposition to turn into tumors as embryonic stem cells, but at least they do not end a life.
What are your thoughts on Embryonic Stem Cell research? Does the potential out way the risks and loss of life?
P.S. Only slightly related, but still interesting. Humans have been cloned and we somehow didn’t hear about it. Much like Dolly the sheep, Dr. Wood, cloned himself using his skin cells and an unfertilized human egg. He developed five of these embryos, each living for five days, before he destroyed them to confirm that they were indeed clones. Apparently, this is not the first human cloning, which occurred in 2001 and the embryos lived two days. I always figured this would be bigger news.

Can technology end abortion?

Over the last few years, numerous scientific breakthroughs have shown that adult cells can be made to behave like embryonic stem cells. These “induced pluripotent stem cells” have great promise. Not only are they more ethical than embryonic stem cells, but since they can be derived from the same patient who needs treatment, they don’t pose the rejection problems that embryonic stem cells do. Eventually, scientists hope that this technology will result in the ability to create tailor-made organs for people with severe medical needs. There’s still a lot of work to be done, but pro-life advocates have a reasonable hope that embryonic stem cells will simply become obsolete. Could the same thing happen with abortion?

Technology has already benefited unborn children in significant ways. Ultrasounds have debunked the “ball of cells” myth, changed mother’s minds about abortion, and converted many people from pro-choice to pro-life. Advances in prenatal care have improved the health of mothers and babies. And just yesterday, Heather wrote about a new medical protocol that can save certain older fetuses from abortions that have already begun. But I’m talking about something bigger: the technology to safely transplant an “unwanted” unborn child into an artificial womb.

Unfortunately, as soon as the thought came to me, I realized how much abortion advocates would fight to keep it from happening.

At first glance, artificial wombs seem like the perfect solution. The baby lives and the mother doesn’t have to share her body– sounds great! But while bodily integrity is a nice rhetorical point for abortion advocates, the real objective of abortion is not to terminate a pregnancy, but to kill a baby. Mothers with pregnancy complications would take advantage of the artificial womb, but they make up a very small fraction of abortions. For most abortion-minded women, the pregnancy itself isn’t the problem– it’s the newborn who results. They cite financial constraints, education, career, and poor relationships.

That means that the majority of mothers would not want to raise the babies gestated in artificial wombs. The babies would instead be put up for adoption. If artificial wombs became available, some mothers would still prefer abortion. In that situation, abortion advocates will ditch the bodily integrity argument, and instead argue that for a woman to know that her baby is out there, being raised by someone else, is a psychological burden that outweighs the baby’s right to life. (While I don’t dispute that adoption is an emotional minefield, that alone cannot justify killing a human being. But any argument with the full support of Planned Parenthood and NARAL is bound to get some traction, no matter how wrong it is.)

Another issue arises when we think about how the technology would develop. In the early stages of experimentation, it will not be safe for the babies. The only (possibly) ethical approach would be to work with babies who are already doomed to die– that is, babies who are scheduled to be aborted. But what abortionist will refer mothers to a study that could put him out of business?

While artificial wombs sound cool, I have to conclude they will do little to save the lives of unborn children. Please prove me wrong in the comments section.

Legal Matters

Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli has released a legal opinion encouraging the state to regulate abortion facilities to the extent that it currently regulates life-friendly surgical clinics and hospitals. Abortion advocacy groups are, predictably, opposed. Remember, kids: abortion is just like any other medical procedure… until people actually want to treat it that way.

In case you’ve been living under a rock, a judge has issued an injunction halting federal funding of embryonic stem cell research. For all the hoopla surrounding it, this is a basic separation of powers case: a president’s attempt to legislate via executive order must fail if the legislature has already spoken on the issue. In this case, the judge ruled that the executive order funding embryonic stem cell research was in direct conflict with the Dickey-Wicker Amendment.

In San Marcos, California, the Life Legal Defense Foundation has secured a victory for sidewalk counselors’ freedom of speech and association.

[Elena] Di Ventra was issued a citation for loitering after she walked into a parking lot adjacent to an abortion center to speak with a pregnant girl and offer her life-saving information about her baby.

The parking lot is open to the public and Di Ventra immediately returned to the sidewalk after her brief conversation with the girl. Still, local police officers accused her of wandering idle about the property without an apparent reason to be present.

When the matter was brought to LLDF’s attention, Life Legal Defense Foundation staff attorney Allison Aranda contacted the San Marcos City Attorney’s Office and demanded that it drop what the pro-life legal group considered a meritless criminal charge.

The City Attorney’s Office quickly reviewed the matter and agreed to dismiss the case.

Sounds to me like there’s a deeper problem here: pro-abortion police officers who spend their time looking for excuses to arrest pro-lifers. As opposed to, you know, doing their jobs and keeping people safe. Hopefully the dismissal of charges will discourage future arrests, but I think a personnel change is what’s really needed. Still, the Life Legal Defense Foundation deserves a thumbs up.

Adult Stem Cell Research in Court

In March 2009, President Obama issued an executive order which simultaneously allowed funding of embryonic stem cell research (ESCR) and rejected funding of adult stem cell research (ASCR). The cutoff of funds for ASCR was accomplished in Section 5, revoking a prior executive order by former president George W. Bush.

Pro-lifers have long supported ASCR as an alternative method which does not require the destruction of human life. We also argue that ASCR has a better track record. The most successful stem cell treatments are those which use a patient’s own cells, eliminating the risk of rejection that has long plagued ESCR. Earlier this month, it was announced that experimental adult stem cell treatment in Italy has even cured blindness. And as medical researchers have begun to create pluripotent stem cells, which act like embryonic stem cells but do not require the death of an embryo, many predict that the whole debate will soon become obsolete.

So defunding ASCR is a frankly moronic public policy move. But is it also illegal or unconstitutional? Jill Stanek reports that two researchers who have been denied funding because of Obama’s executive order are suing, and the DC Federal Court of Appeal has just ruled that they have standing to bring the claim. I’ll let you know what happens. If you want my prediction, it’s that the National Institutes of Health will settle the case to avoid bad press.