Home > Religion, Science > I can see the goalposts moving!

I can see the goalposts moving!

AgapePress is touting new research findings about stem cells from amniotic fluid. As we all know Agape is always on the front line promoting the successes of science in improving the lives of God’s children.

What? That’s not what the article’s about? Oops. Agape sees this as a vindication of stem cell research opponents:

(AgapePress) – An opponent of embryonic stem-cell research says a new report from U.S. scientists revealing the presence of pluripotent stem cells in amniotic fluid offers confirmation of what pro-life groups have been saying for years — that is, that advancing medical knowledge does not require the destruction of human embryos.

Researchers with Wake Forest University Medical School and Harvard Medical School have reported that they were able to extract stem cells from amniotic fluid donated by pregnant women and then turn the cells into several different tissue cell types including brain, liver, and bone tissue cells (see related story).

Pro-life, pro-family, and medical ethics groups are jointly hailing the new stem-cell study, the findings of which suggest these non-embryonic stem cells derived from amniotic fluid show great potential for usefulness in treating disease. Pro-life advocate Mark Crutcher, founder and president of Life Dynamics Incorporated, says he and other pro-lifers have been trying for years to get the message across that it is not necessary to kill a living human being in order to achieve benefits in medical science. “This just proves that we’re right,” he contends.

There are plenty of problems here. First, the results are excellent, but the authors are careful to note that they didn’t necessarily produce stem cells equivalent to ones of the embryonic variety. So Agape and Crutcher can calm down.

Second, there’s a subtle shifting of goalposts here. Witness the next paragraph:

Crutcher says he finds it interesting that in the past the medical science community has not been able to demonstrate even “one single scientific breakthrough using embryonic stem cells.” All the breakthroughs that have taken place in therapeutic use of stem cells to treat disease have come through use of adult stem cells, he points out — not through embryonic stem-cell research, or ESCR.

Now, embryonic stem cells are useful because they’re pluripotent – they can generate lots of different types of tissue. Adult stems cells don’t have that advantage. This research is being touted because these are non-embryonic stem cells with some of the features of embryonic cells. Crutcher just said embryonic stem cells aren’t that useful. So, why does he think this finding is important? If embryonic stem cells aren’t useful, why are we celebrating that we found a non-embryonic way to produce stem cells like them?

Opponents of embryonic stem cell research are caught between two contradictory strategies. They can acknowledge the advantages of embryonic stem cells and try to promote research that shows we might be able to get around using embryos or they can deny the advantages of embryonic stem cells. Neither is good science and both are cynical PR strategies. I have some respect for those who have moral objections to embryonic stem cell research. They lose my respect when they attack science that shows what they object to might help those with certain medical conditions. The two aren’t connected. Science doesn’t always lead us to ethical solutions and the ethical stance isn’t always the best scientific stance. That just means they both need each other.

Integrity, however, is vital to both of them.

Categories: Religion, Science
  1. January 11, 2007 at 12:58 pm

    Think is American innovation had always been treated this way:

    Alexander Graham Bell’s research made illegal in in 1870 because no one had yet got a phone call.

    Thomas Eddison’s Menlo Park lab defunded because no on had yet heard sound coming from a phonograph under the glow of electric candle int their cement house.

    Edwin Armstong run out of town on the rails because everyone thought AM radio worked just fine.

    Stephanie Kwolek defunded because not a single soldier’s life had yet been saved by Kevlar.

    This line of thought is crazy. Dismissing research becuase it is not yet mature when all indications are that it will produce wonderful result.

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