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« Our Substitute, Our Reconciler | Main | Hitchens' Mess »

April 02, 2009



This is huge, and may the Lord be pleased to do it. And may those that fight against the reallity of adult stem cell advantage come to naught!

Have I said WOW?

Brother Pat

That is good to know. Nobody ever believes me!

This is great. This gives credit to what I recently posted on my own blog. I'll bet that while this is now becoming more visible in the public eye, the White House will not change its stance on advocating ESCR as purely scientific and should not be oppressed/restricted because of religion.

Induced pluripotent stem cells can be made in ways that reduce their tumorgenicity and bypass the problems with viral vectors. See my blog entry for more information:

Also, once embryonic stem cells are differentiated into particular cell types, their tumorgenicity seems to be greatly reduced. This is not the case for all cell types. However, this is one of the reasons why the FDA approved the experiments with embryonic stem cell-derived oligodendrocyte progenitor cells (OPCs) for spinal cord injuries. Once embryonic stem cells are converted into OPCs, their tumorgenicity is greatly reduced - no one has seen transplanted OPCs made from embryonic stem cells form tumors in animals.

Having said all that, what the FDA has approved involves clinical trials with stem cell lines that are were made before Bush's ruling on federal funding for research that derived new embryonic stem cell lines. However we have heard over and over again that these lines were useless for clinical trials. Yet now the FDA has approved a phase I trial using these same cells. I see some doublespeak here.

Secondly, the trial approved by the FDA is based on data that has been also generated with somatic stem cells like Schwann cels, olfactory ensheathing cells, bone marrow and neural precursor cells. In fact, olfactory ensheathing cells have been used successfully used in clinical trials. If these somatic cells have done all these things and show no safety problems, why the push for embryonic stem cell trials?

How dare Oprah volley against the SUpreme Ruler of the World Obama. I'm sure she'll be whacked in a back room at the white house for airing this piece of insubordination!

In some ways this is tragic. It takes Oprah to educate our public? No wonder those buffoons in congress get away with all their buffoonery. The public has lost its capacity to think and reason.

Bring back the teaching of "rhetoric" at the K-12 level.

Poor Dr. Oz.

Bet he's not going to be invited back soon!!

God exists!! this is proof!!! lol!
This is amazing

I don't know why you guys bother with all these posts on the utility (or lack thereof) of embryonic stem cells.

Even if they saved 50 million lives a year, you would still oppose the legislation.

Eventually, someone somewhere will find SOME use for them. Even if they're only good for engine lubrication or art.

I think you should really return to your main point - which is that harvesting embryonic stem cells implies destroying a person.

This other argument line about how useful they are is just an eventual dead end.

Tony i dont think anyones abandoning the first argument, but given escr's current shortcomings, it certainly doesnt hurt to mention it

Does this mean Oprah will declare that Obama is not "The One" anymore? After all, Obama was dead set on reversing Bush's anti-science stem cell research policy; Dr. Oz is suggesting Obama's plan would be a huge waste of money?

Tony said: "Even if they saved 50 million lives a year, you would still oppose the legislation." True, but the limited utility of embryonic stem cells decreases the likelihood that people will keep spending money to harvest them. There are better, nearly-identical, equally-priced and more socially-acceptable products available; it doesn't take an economist to predict the results. Less embryonic destruction. Which is a good thing, in light of our "first argument."


Hmm well that is a good point.

Pragmatically speaking, by telling everyone embryos aren't good for scientific research, they arguably could cut down on the number of embryos killed.

Of course, they would go straight to heaven anyway so, statistically speaking, the christians might actually be doing more harm than good.

But anyway, i'd still say it's a sidestep that will eventually backfire. I just don't think i'd advise this line of argument.

It would be like telling Hitler.

"Please Hitler, don't you see that the Jewish people are individuals with the right to life!!! No? Hmm, well, surely you see that you should keep them alive because they do make for excellent slave labor."

Then again, I guess it did work for Oskar Schindler though.

This is great. I hope it resonates. As we know the issue was never about science or ending suffering. It's always been about justified destruction of embryos, assisted by the Bush haters (if W's for it, I'm agin it).

"Of course, they would go straight to heaven anyway so, statistically speaking, the christians might actually be doing more harm than good."

One should never do evil that good may result.


though it does seem wise to choose to fight the lesser of two evils.

e.g. if one particular evil act resulted in 10,000 embryos being murdered, and i know their souls will go to heaven anyway. And another evil act resulted in 5,000 teenagers being murdered, and the fate of their souls was uncertain, then it seems if i wanted to maxamize the number of saved souls in heaven, i should devote my limited resources to saving the 5,000 teenagers.

>>if one particular evil act resulted in 10,000 embryos being murdered, and i know their souls will go to heaven anyway. And another evil act resulted in 5,000 teenagers being murdered, and the fate of their souls was uncertain, then it seems if i wanted to maxamize the number of saved souls in heaven, i should devote my limited resources to saving the 5,000 teenagers.>>

No offense ToNy (I'm sure you'll take none), but this is an absurd scenario. Even if it were an actual dilemma, your reasoning still smacks of a kind of utilitarianism of souls. As if the goal were to achieve a certain quota of souls in heaven. I think you miss the point. Although, you're right to point out that, given two impossibly unavoidable evils, and being forced to choose (I reject the reality of this) one ought to choose the lesser of two evils.

Bottom line...while I would still hope for a greater respect for the dignity of human life, it is good news that in this case, the same "good" can result without the destruction of human life.


I love your sense of humor. It's so off-beat.

Embryonic stem cells have plenty of utility. The moral point is that classical protocols used in the derivation of embryonic stem cell lines requires the destruction of human blastocyst-stage embryos.

There are now ways to derive ESC lines without destroying embryos and, at last count, iPSCs are closer to clinical trials than the "classical" ESC lines. I do not oppose ESCs on principle, and I would expect that most Christians don't either. What I oppose is the destruction of human embryos.

>> As if the goal were to achieve a certain quota of souls in heaven

Why is maximizing the number of souls you save not a viable goal?


Michael, were you referring to the studies in which researchers were able to obtain stem cells from embryos that have been deemed organismically dead?
Eg. Stem cell lines created from discarded IVF embryos

This seems to be an ethically responsible way of obtaining embryonic stem cells without requiring the destruction of living human embryos, as these embryos have already stopped developing, and even if inserted into a womb they would never implant and develop into a baby.

This needs to be looked into deeper, but I hope that this can provide a common ground between those who believe in the need to continue research with ESCs and those who are opposed to research that involves taking what they believe is a human life.

To often the media portrays those who oppose the destruction of embryos as being against science or medical research, but in fact it is because we see that there are alternative means of obtaining stem cells for research and treatment which gives us hope that our concerns about the use of human life in research and the concerns of those who believe that ESCR is still necessary may not be mutually exclusive.


If I understand you properly, you are referring to Landry and Zucker's papers that define "organismic death" for the early embryo as 60% of the cells being dead. They go further for pre-compaction embryos and define organismic death as embryos that fail to undergo compaction, which occurs at about the eight-cell stage.

The Daley lab at Harvard University has shown that embryonic stem cell derivation with young (pre-compaction stage) embryos that fail to undergo compaction is very poor, but embryonic stem cell derivation with older embryos that show extensive cell death is actually quite good (meaning comparable to to classical means by which embryonic stem cultures are made with left-over IVF embryos). According to Daley, since a large proportion of IVF embryos are sub-standard for implantation, there is potentially a large source of embryos for embryonic stem cell research without ethical concerns, since such embryos are, essentially, dead.

I think Landry and Zucker are onto something, but it seems to me that there is a caveat here. Landry and Zucker have very carefully defined embryo death. Certainly an embryo that fails to undergo compaction is dead - there is no realistic debate about that. However for later pre-implantation embryos, defining organismic death is tougher. Clinical experience has shown that embryos that were previously thought to be dead (grade III embryos for example) can implant and give birth to a normal baby. It is not typical, but it happens. Furthermore, the gradings used by fertility clinics (grades IV, III, II, I, O) are not standardized throughout the industry, are a little subjective, and not consistently applied internationally. Therefore, while Landry and Zucker have carefully made their point, what worries me is that the potential for abuse seems high to me, and some perfectly healthy embryos might be killed by this procedure.

My point in the above post was pluripotent stem cells do not require donated eggs or the embryonic stage. Therefore they are preferable to classical means of deriving embryonic stem cells. Furthermore, making patient-specific embryonic stem cells is orders of magnitude easier with iPSCs and does not require cloning.

I hope this helps. Cheers!!


A second comment on your last point.

Christian ethicist Gilbert Meilander states in his testimony before the National Bioethics Advisory Commission in May 1999 that only by "declining to use embryos for this research do we awaken our imaginations and force ourselves to seek other sources for stem cells."

I do not mean to be presumptuous, but I assume that you, like me, do not oppose embryonic stem cells per se, but oppose the destruction of human embryos. If this is the case then in actuality we are more pro-science that those who advocate for classical means of embryonic stem cell derivation because we want to see the hard work done the bypasses the need for human embryos.

This name-calling thing is annoying, but it is the heart of political correctness. If you label someone with the right "unforgivable" name like "antiscience," "racist," "homophobe," or something like that, then you can dismiss them without having to deal with their arguments. It is the new intellectual McCarthyism.

For some reason the latest comment that I am trying to post keeps getting deleted after I refresh the page. Can a moderator explain what I'm doing wrong?

We are certainly on the same page in our concern over research that involves the destruction of living human embryos. And I fully agree with Meilander's testimony. I believe that most of the recent breakthroughs involving iPSCs stemmed directly from the restrictions that Pres. Bush's bioethics committee put on federal funding for embryo-destructive stem cell research, thus forcing scientists to imagine alternative means for obtaining stem cells. And like you said, these alternatives have proven to be even more effective and easier to produce than ESCs, and I would agree with you that they make ESCs obsolete.

You can see where I've been called more than my share of names in some of my blog posts describing a recent online debate with some staunch ESCr supporters in a Facebook stem cell group.

My point in bringing up Landry and Zucker's paper (Embryonic Death and the creation of human embryonic stem cells is the one I was referring to; I didn't read their other work) is for those die-hard ESC researchers like Daley who, despite knowing first hand the effectiveness of iPSCs for research and clinical treatments (he co-authored a key paper describing the creation of 10 disease-specific iPS cell lines), still insist that ESC research should continue unabated. Thus, stem cells derived from organismically dead embryos could serve to fulfill this purpose in an ethically responsible manner, even as we hope that more and more researchers will recognize that ESCr is no longer needed.

My reading of Landry and Zucker's paper is that their criteria for embryo death is more stringent than the standard for "non-viability" used by fertility clinics. In their words: "For a developed human organism, brain death marks the irreversible loss of the capacity for all ongoing and integrated organic functioning. We propose that the defining capacity of a 4- or 8-cell human embryo is continued and integrated cellular division, growth, and differentiation. We further propose that an embryo that has irreversibly lost this capacity, even as its individual cells are alive, is properly considered organismically dead."

This paper by Condic and Furton from the National Catholic Bioethics Center does an excellent job of analyzing the ethical issues surrounding the issue: "Harvesting Embryonic Stem Cells from Deceased Human Embryos". They conclude that "developmental arrest is a good criterion for death of an embryo, so long as (1) arrest is intrinsic (i.e., not due to lack of some key environmental factor) and (2) arrest is truly irreversible (i.e., determined with confidence by the kinds of studies outlined above that these embryos never spontaneously resume development)." One additional advantage that Condic and Furton noted in establishing a proper criteria for death in embryos is that this would then provide the much needed oversight over the way that embryos are currently treated in fertility clinics:

"The most important advantage of establishing criteria for death at embryonic stages and requiring a legal certification of death prior to donation of cells for research is that it would ensure that all human embryos produced in IVF laboratories are treated with an appropriate level of respect. First and foremost, that respect would prohibit their direct killing, but second, it would also guarantee that the bodies of deceased human embryos would be treated as those of any other human being. In particular, the practice of dumping the bodies of human embryos down a laboratory sink or incinerating them with common medical waste would be ended. These restrictions could be codified in law as a requirement for the disbursement of federal and state funds."

>>For some reason the latest comment that I am trying to post keeps getting deleted after I refresh the page. Can a moderator explain what I'm doing wrong?

Not sure...sometimes if there are too many links (or if there's only a link), it goes into spam, but I don't see any of your comments in the spam folder. And sometimes it just takes longer for a comment to show up for no reason I can discern.

Hi Amy,
I think I had too many links; I removed too of them and the comment posted fine. Thanks for looking into it!


Thanks for the heads-up on that article.

I would agree that using dead embryos has its advantages. It also seems to me that there are potentials for abuse. If there is a way to get around this, I am more than willing to listen to it.

There is also a second problem that no one is really talking about and that is the freezing of the embryos. Not all embryos survive the freezing process. While it is preferable to letting the freshly minted embryos to die, it is not ideal. People who elect to adopt embryos must adopt an entire straw of embryos. Typically when the embryo straw is thawed, some of them die. There are usually three-four embryos per straw.

Given the available options, I think the dead-embryo option is definitely one of the better ones.

Hi Michael,
Certainly the potential for abuse must be addresses by proper guidelines and oversight. The Condic and Furton paper offered some helpful suggestions along these lines:
"If such legislation were enacted, the process of obtaining embryonic stem cells from deceased embryos would have to be kept distinct from the laboratory work of those who operate the IVF laboratory and from those who declare the death of the embryo. In keeping with standard protocols regarding organ donation, the physician who determines death in the embryo must not be the same person who seeks permission from the parents for cell donation. Nor can he be the one who removes organs or cells from the deceased. This effectively places a bar between the actions of those who carry out the IVF procedures and those who arrive after the fact of embryo death and remove donated cells."

Also, I think it is reasonable to call for a reform of how IVF is done, so that we don't continue to compound the tragedy of having to freeze embryos. I believe that no viable embryos should be created during IVF that will not be placed in a womb and at least given the chance to implant and develop. Advances in the success of freezing and thawing human oocytes (eg. this IVF clinic) gives me hope that future IVF procedures will not require the creation of more zygotes than will be inserted at any one time, without having to repeat the difficult and expensive process of harvesting more eggs from the woman each time.

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