Creating a Market For EmbryosPastor Robert Fleischmann, CLR National Director
Clearly Caring Magazine-Home Edition, 2nd Quarter 2011, Vol. 31, No. 2
Those in the pro-life movement often use the term, “the slippery slope.” This “slope” not only refers to logical connections in a course of action (i.e., if the desire is to take life in the womb, it won’t take long before it becomes accepted practice to take life outside of the womb) but points to self-created circumstances that validate going further – much like the momentum generated after a rock is pushed down a slope to the bottom. Embryonic stem cell research is a good example of this trend.
A central argument in the advocacy of embryonic stem cell research involves the estimated 400,000 unclaimed frozen embryos that would otherwise be disposed of if not used for the good of embryonic stem cell research. About 18 embryos are currently needed to create five useful stem cell lines. That means of the 400,000 embryos, more than 110,000 stem cell lines could be extracted for use in experimentation. This argument can be appealing – even for those who otherwise might consider themselves to be “pro-life.” It appeals to the utilitarian side in all of us – not wanting to waste anything that might otherwise be used for good.
There are a few problems with this argument:
1) Is the number of 400,000 cryo-preserved embryos available for research accurate? No, the number is based on a statistical estimate or, more accurately, a guess-timate. It could be many more or a lot less.
2) Not all cryo-preserved embryos can be considered potential candidates for embryonic stem cell research. In fact, the available number might shock you. In the May 2003 issue of Fertility and Sterility 79 (5): 1063-1069, researchers found of the estimated 400,000 cryo-preserved embryos, only a small percentage (11%) were available for research. Allowing for rejection of poor quality embryos from the remaining eligible numbers, the study calculated only 275 embryonic stem cell lines could optimistically be created.
To date, approximately 60 stem cell lines exist – and they have yet to produce any results. Are more needed?
With 275 more lines, will that be enough? What if we need more? Now, let’s complicate the issue even more. A 2010 study in the British Medical Journal suggests that rather than the standard 3-5 embryos used in an IVF (in-vitro fertilization) procedure, the implantation of a single embryo actually boosts the success rate in having a healthy delivery. Conversely, this reduces the number of embryos created in the laboratory for cryo-preservation and thereby reduces the number that might later become available for stem cell research. If embryonic stem cell research continues to fuel the need for more embryos, where would they be derived?
The “slippery slope” answer is alarming – human cloning. Supporters of cloning for stem cell research are quick to distinguish between therapeutic cloning and reproductive cloning. Reproductive cloning involves the creation of another fully-developed human being. No reputable advocates of this type of cloning can be found – yet! Support is found instead in therapeutic cloning. Therapeutic cloning is identical in process as reproductive cloning, but once the life is developed to the blastocyst stage it is destroyed in order to extract stem cells.
The primary objection of embryonic stem cell research is the destruction of human life – whether obtained through leftover embryos from IVF procedures or created through cloning. So long as the value of life at this early stage is mitigated, one can expect such ideas to move to the forefront in the years to come. Such is a different and precarious path down the slippery slope.
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