Tuesday, December 08, 2009

New Human Embryonic Stem Cell Lines

Dr. Francis Collins is an intriguing if not complicated figure. He is a self-proclaimed evangelical, ardent proponent of theistic evolution, former head of the Human Genome Project, and now the director of the NIH. He and the NIH recently announced the approval of 13 human embryonic stem cell lines suitable for federal funding. Those who are worried about the implications of using human embryo stem cell lines will probably not be set at ease with the vague language Collins employs. In the NIH press release, he states:

"In accordance with the guidelines, these stem cell lines were derived from embryos that were donated under ethically sound informed consent processes. More lines are under review now, and we anticipate continuing to expand this list of responsibly derived lines eligible for NIH funding."

According to an interview in the Washington Post, there are dozens more lines in the pipeline waiting the vetting process. In response to ethical concerns, Collins stated:

"I think that there is an argument to be made that what is being done is ethically acceptable…even if you believe in the inherent sanctity of the human embryo."

I would be pleased to see an argument for this very thing that does not rely on utilitarian calculations, and that takes seriously the claim that human embryos are human persons with all their human rights intact. To my knowledge, and in the literature I have read on this announcement, Collins does not make any such case. So then, as a scientifically responsible position, I believe Collins’ statement falls flat.

Ultimately, what continues to confuse me is the very issue raised in the NIH release.

“Researchers hope that eventually cells differentiated from hESCs may be used to treat a myriad of diseases, conditions, and disabilities and to test the safety of new drugs in the laboratory."

So far, no clinical treatments have been documented as a result of human stem cell research whereas adult stem cells have been successfully applied to dozens of different diseases and conditions. And the creation of Chemically Induced adult Pluripotent Stem cells (CiPS) has, in my mind, settled both the scientific and ethical debate.

HT: Albert Mohler

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