girl ipsa loquitur: Life, Cloning and Wrongful Death of a Zygote<br> Girl Ipsa Weighs In... Email me!

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Life, Cloning and Wrongful Death of a Zygote
Girl Ipsa Weighs In...

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Can we talk? A couple of things are going on in the legal scene which I want to discuss with you. But I fear that you will be too polarized, too angry, to have a conversation. An exchange of ideas. I don't want to you to become an activist. I don't want you to adopt my thinking whole. I don't even want you to change your mind about anything. I just want you to think about it. (If you change your mind, well that's just a bonus!)

First up we have Human cloning . I know, I know. Fraught with danger this issue is (and Yoda I am). So, lets just take it slow. Do you know anyone with diabetes? There is some very exciting medical stuff on the horizon. Pancreatic cell transplants which will literally repair the problem making a former diabetic an actually healthy person again. Not a well treated diabetic person but a diabetes free person. This is nearly miraculous. Trouble is that it requires some research, some pre-miracle lab work, and some cloning. Oh crap. Cloning.

Therapeutic cloning is the creation of human embryos (zygotes or blastocysts** might be more correct) for the purpose of destroying them. They are not created to become babies so this purpose, this use, does not implicate all of the "Cloning People" issues (such as the uncertainty of health & the theological quagmire of will they have souls?). What it does implicate are the right to life issues raised in abortion and stem cell research. The argument is that the initial division of cells creates the possibility of viable human life and therefore it is wrong (evil, immoral) to destroy it for any purpose. (I am forced to point out that all gametes contain the potential for life but you rarely hear people calling for the protection of sperm)

On the other hand, therapeutic cloning is never done with a mom and a dad, no gametes at all! In fact, the cloning (by definition) is genetically singular in nature. The cell division occurs in the regular way but the genetic contribution to the blastocyst is from only one person -- that's why its a clone and not a regular embryo. This is medically useful since researchers can isolate certain diseases and genetic defects in order to better understand them and eventually treat or cure them. But the cloned embryo has a very different genesis than other embryos. It is literally created for the purpose of research and was never going to be anything but that.

The article linked here is about research into incurable muscle-wasting disease. The cloned embryos would be created with DNA from people with this disease. Therefore, the embryo will have this disease, providing researchers with defective nerve cells to compare to healthy nerve cells. In the end, the betterment of humanity is the goal. A treatment or a cure for the formerly incurable. But at what cost?

In a totally unrelated case we are introduced to another embryo (zygote**...). This one was whipped up in a petri dish with the intention that it one day be a person, a baby. Now its the subject of a wrongful death law suit because of its accidental destruction. A judge has ruled that the suit may continue, holding that the embryo is a human being. Obviously the parent/plaintiffs here are pleased. They want some sort of compensation for the loss of that little bit of possibility. I am sure that they are grieving, as well, since they have the desire to be parents and have lost an opportunity because of the negligence of a lab worker. I say an opportunity because there is nothing to suggest that they can not make another embryo.

What I find interesting in both of these cases is what the ultimate results of opposing the medical actions will be. Successful opposition to therapeutic cloning and stem cell research will not result in the increased birth of normal and healthy babies. Opposing stem cell research will not make women seeking abortions any less likely to abort their fetuses. It will only result in the entire waste of the fetus. Rather than contributing to our medical knowledge and consequently benefiting humanity as a whole through better treatment and cures, stopping stem cell research will only stop stem cell research. It won't save babies. It will only hurt people who stand to benefit from the research in the end. It HARMS life while failing to actually preserve life.

Also interesting is the effect that allowing a recovery for wrongful death in the fertility clinic case will be. The logical result is that either doctors will stop providing this type of service to would-be parents (in order to avoid exposure to a wrongful death liability) or that the cost of such services will sky rocket. In either event, the ability of fertility challenged parents to eventually give birth will be diminished. Fewer babies will be born. Again, life takes the blow here.

It begs the question: What are we really opposed to? And what price are we willing to pay to have our way in the end? If you oppose cloning, ask yourself why. Stem cell research? Why? In vitro-fertilization? Why? Drag yourself away from the easy answer and really give it a good shot.

I was asked the question in Constitutional Law class: When do you think life begins? and I answered it as honestly as I know how -- When sperm meets egg and the cell division starts. That's the beginning of life. But I think the question was wrong. It did not really address the issue, did it? The question is not when does life begin but, rather, when should we assign a protected status to life? When does a blastocyst, or an embryo or a fetus become an individual? There are countless places at which to draw this line. But I think we can all agree that once you are born you have crossed that line, you are worthy of protection, even if you are born with an incurable disease. Even if you are diabetic.

I don't think I've answered a single question here and I did not intend to. What I hoped was that you would think. Think about this. And perhaps we can replace some of our knee-jerk reactions with thoughtful considerations. Perhaps we can raise our eyes up and see the Big Picture, feeling a sense of amazement when science seeks to accomplish the miraculous by improving LIFE, saving LIFE, and protecting LIFE. Ultimately we have to balance the good and the bad in almost everything.

Let us weigh carefully.


*** The embryonic stage is long. It begins with initial cell division and ends at 8 weeks of development. There is a substantial difference between the early embryo and the late. One is a wad of cells, the other has a beating heart. To refer to both of these states as "embryo" is to confuse what we are really talking about. The embryo in the test-tube is a zygote, not even blastocyst since that stage begins on implantation and it can not yet have implanted...


6 Comments:

Blogger Charone said...

It's like George Carlin says, life began about 4 billion years ago, and it's a continuous process. It just keeps rolling, rolling, rolling along.

11:39 AM  
Blogger weirsdo said...

Mrs. Weirsdo says, "the 'moment of conception' is not a moment at all. Sometimes several sperm penetrate the outer membrane of the egg, and it takes time for the egg to eject the extra chromosomes. What and where is the soul during this interval? Even when a single sperm enters, its genes remain separate from those of the egg for a day or more, and it takes yet another day or so for the newly merged genome to control the cell. So the 'moment' of conception is in fact a span of twenty-four to forty-eight hours." Stephen Pinker, THE BLANK SLATE

1:19 PM  
Blogger snappy said...

My problem with the news that dolly the sheeps creator has got permission to use embryos for research is its one step closer to playing god.What end result can justify its use?He said it could be fifteen years before the research could be applied.Remember all the hoohaa about the human genome project.When it was done they found it was so much more complicated and they could not use the information.It sits all this human gene info and its useless.
It starts with experiments using an embryo and motor neurone disease cell fused together to make a thing.Like a zygote but deliberately damaged.To be experimented then destroyed.
How does that differ from the nazi concentration camps?Immersing jewish people in freezing water to see the effects of hyperthermia on live subjects.They were expendable.
The difference is only what is being experimented on, people or emryos which give rise to people through normal means.
This scientist creates temporary lives to play with then destroy.
Why not let him use live embryos from IVF? Ones not used at all but left in frozen suspension.They all have the capacity to become babies.
Your argument is none at all just quoting various people.What is your stand on it?
Listing the arguments advances it not one bit.Its a politicians or lawyers tactics.
If they can use MND as an experimental factor why not breast cancer gene?Multiple sclerosis?Asthma?
If they can isolate them they will be one step closer to eugenics.Destroying embryos because they are damaged at a cell level.Why let people live with downs syndrome, spina bifida, cerebral palsy?
Asthmatics, diabetics,lung diseases,heart disease,hypertention,renal problems,liver problems.Each of these has genes identified that make people at risk of developing those conditions.
Eugenics would destroy these embryos before they were born.
I think its a sad day they allow scientists more power to play god with embryos for their own gratification.There justification is they might be able to cure MND in fifteen years.Its a cop out argument to get what they want.
Most of the people with motor neurone disease will be dead in fifteen years as the disease stops their respiratory muscles from working amongst others.
Did you see the 67 year old italian woman who had a baby by IVF?How sick was that.She could be dead in 3 years.Who looks after the child then?Why did they do it?So they could help childless couples?Or alter nature so a geriatric woman could give birth?
The point is just because you can do something does not mean you have to do it.I am against any experiments on embryos whether for science or eugenics.
Good post from you.Sorry for my response.Democracy is great!

12:42 PM  
Blogger Girl Ipsa said...

Snappy ~

I am glad that you're reading and also glad that you took the time to comment. I'll answer your question about where I stand on the issue after I remind you that I wrote this post for the purpose of inciting conversation and THOUGHT. A blanket attempt to persuade others to believe what I think is counter productive to my ultimate goal: Helping people decide for themselves what to think!

So, I am Pro-Science. (Go Science rah rah rah!) I see the good that can come from the next 15 years of research and I think of the children born in 15 years, not those that will have died before then. And it makes me both hopeful and proud of humanity.

Now I have a question for you: What do you think is the scientists' "own gratification"? If they are playing God with an ulterior motive other than the betterment of human knowledge and condition, what do you suspect that motive to be?

I hope to hear from more readers!

Thanks for reading ~ Girl Ipsa

1:01 PM  
Blogger Michael_the_Archangel said...

I've been a lurker for some time, but I always find you interesting - okay, enough flattery.

No reason to keep the question simple, allow me to direct you to:
http://www.newscientist.com/article.ns?id=dn6733

An article that I did a posting about, which talks about a procedure that tricks the mother's egg to "think" that it has been fertilized, so it starts dividing, actually reaching blastocyst stage. However since no chromosomes, DNA or material from a father was part of the process, it could not/would not ever develop into a human. Theory has it that these developed cells could be used to harvest stem cells. This is an idea I could easily support, notice how the MSM never picked up on this story?

My other 'pickle' is embryonic stem cells. If you dig a bit, you find there are all sorts of stem cells, adult and embryonic. So far, it appears that the adult stem cells have had a fairly good track record, but the embryonic stem cells haven't see:
http://www.cbhd.org/resources/stemcells/mcconchie_2004-06-16.htm

So did I answer the question? Heck no, but I did give us all something more to talk about.

3:11 PM  
Blogger Marinade Dave said...

I wrote a post about it on my blog. You might be interested in reading it:

http://marinadedave.blogspot.com/2005/06/hard-cell-or-do-we-stem-tide-of.html

It's mostly about trying to educate the masses, not in a clinical sense, but how certain parts of society just don't understand it.

Keep up the good work.

10:20 AM  

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