Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Call Them on Your (Stem) Cell

By: Michael Akerman

(EDITED on 7/21/06 to clarify some biology in the sixth paragraph)

First off, I'm trying to muster up the desire to finish Bear (Bear? What's he talking about? Oh, right, the "short" story), but I know how it ends, so it's kind of boring to write. I'll get to it eventually.

It's Just a Bill

After passing in the Senate by darn close to a super-majority, the most recent important stem cell bill now sits on the desk of the President of the United States. Bush is, of course, likely to veto it, in following with his firm stance against destructive stem cell research (which is currently the only way to obtain new cell lines).

I, in my arrogance and by vastly over-reaching the influence of this blog, would caution the President against vetoing such a bill. The vast majority of his voting base approves of stem cell research, including the much-maligned "Christian Right" (by which the Democratic pundits and bloggers really mean the Christian nutjobs, which is an entirely different set of people. Rather, perhaps, a crazed subset of ignorant fools in the larger group of Republican Christians). But, that's merely a political reason, and it shouldn't convince anyone, politician or not, that stem cell research is the right thing to do.

Bush, in his zeal to prevent any approximation of "playing God," seems to have missed some important lessons on modern stem cell research (and the research this bill would allow). Stem cell research, in the current sense, uses the embryos left over from in-vitro fertilization, since dozens are produced and, unless a couple wants to have dozens of children, only a few are implanted. So, thousands (tens of thousands? Hundreds of thousands? Doesn't really matter) of embryos are left over, frozen for a few months to a few years before finally being destroyed.

The last few words of that sentence were key. Bush does not want life to be destroyed to give life, but these are doomed embryos, to put it darkly. They will be destroyed. They have been part of the noble quest to let a loving pair in mankind's great family create new life, and they should be used in their finality to help some ailing member of the great family to retain life.

And it is important to use as many embryos as possible. Indeed, scientists already are with private and Californian funding. You see, with all the versatility that stem cells likely have, they still have mostly-immutable DNA. The human body tends to reject foreign DNA, with the likelihood of rejection rising with the difference of the foreign DNA (EDIT: To clarify, the body does not reject DNA directly. Rather, it rejects the proteins on the surface of the cells, which are produced based on the cell's DNA. This is why O-type blood, which has none of the A-B identifier proteins on the surface of the cells, is compatible with all blood types, while AB-type blood, which has both A and B identifier proteins, is only compatible with AB blood types). This is why it's always vitally important to get a "compatible" kidney for transplants. One too differing from the patients own kidney will be attacked and destroyed.

If many cell lines are produced, the likelihood of there being at least one line that is very similar to a patient's DNA is vastly improved. This is, I should note, the argument for therapeutic cloning, which is another bag of worms entirely. In TC, the patient is cloned in an egg, and that egg developed into an embryo, before harvesting those stem cells. This virtually guarantees that the inducted cells will not be rejected, but it means producing human embryos (whether they are persons at the embryonic stage or not is a matter of belief) purely to destroy them, which is rather more irksome than using pre-extant embryos that must be destroyed.

However, it is clear that the chance to treat diseases ranging from heart disease to Alzheimer's vastly outweighs the evil of destroying already-doomed embryos. Indeed, it is clear that it is evil not to use these embryos to support life if we can. Life is a terrible thing to waste when it can so easily help others.

So, Mr. President, sign this bill into law.

By my hand,

~Michael Akerman