By Wesley J. Smith, J.D., Special Consultant to the CBC
Stem cell bioethicists apparently have claimed that IPSCs — skin or other cells reprogrammed to be stem cells& — “are as morally fraught” as ESCR — stem cells taken from destroying human embryos. Baloney. ESCR is, by the very way the cells are derived and used, unethical. Nascent human lives are destroyed and transformed into mere natural resources. The ethical issue in inherent.
In contrast, the ethical perils with IPSC described in the Scientific American article deal with hypothetical future ethically questionable uses to which IPSCs might be put. From the story:
When researchers first demonstrated in 2007 that human skin cells could be reprogrammed to behave like stem cells that can fully differentiate into other cells, scientists and politicians alike rejoiced. All the potential of embryonic stem cells might be harnessed with the new techniques—without the political and moral controversy associated with destroying a fertilized egg.
Oops, junk biology alert. It isn’t called fertilized egg stem cell research for a reason. Once the fertilization process is complete, the egg no longer exists. The act of fertilization transforms it into an embryo, with a totally different genetic makeup than the woman from whom the egg came. ES cells are usually taken from embryos that are a week or so in development, when they are known in the lexicon as blastocysts, which are different things altogether from eggs. (They never stop, do they?) But back to the story:
That optimism, however, may be misplaced; these transformed cells, known as induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS cells), actually present equally troubling ethical quandaries, according to bioethicists who met at the International Society for Stem Cell Research annual meeting in June. Not only do many of the ethical challenges posed by embryonic stem cells remain, but the relative ease and low cost of iPS techniques, combined with the accessibility of cells, accelerate the need to address futuristic-sounding possibilities such as creating gametes for reproduction. Scientists have already reported progress in growing precursor cells for eggs and sperm from both iPS and embryonic stem cell lines.
That is also true of ESCR. Besides, anything that is ethical can be used unethically — including IPSCs — and that can be remedied by proper regulation — such as barring all human cloning — so that no eggs, whether natural or created from IPSCs, are used to clone human life.
So, to recap: ESCR — unethical by definition, along with potential unethical uses. IPSCs — ethical by definition with potential unethical uses. Nope. Not “as morally fraught.” I think some people just like turning everything into mud.