Okay, I am sufficiently annoyed at how ignorant and irrational this stem cell debate has been lately, that I am going to lay out some facts here for those who might feel underinformed.
1. Stem cells do not come from killing babies. Do you know how big a stem cell is? A blastocyst, which is to say an early embryo, is approximately the size of the period at the end of this sentence. That is all you need to start a stem cell line.
2. I have a hard time believing millions of Americans, as Bush put it, would really be offended by stem cell research if they really understood what it is and what it could do if we were allowed to pursue it.
I have a hard time believing- and maybe I'm being optimistic here- that there are really millions
of Americans who believe that life begins when the sperm is engulfed by the egg. And yes, that is really what happens at conception. Kind of grisly when you picture it that way, huh?
I think there is probably only a number in the thousands, maybe the hundred thousands, of people who know enough about conception to understand what it reallly is and still choose to believe that this is a definition of life.
Do you realize that anywhere from 50-90% of human conceptions end at the 2-cell stage naturally, from failed cell division? Yes, this is the kind of thing I work on. And if you know anything about cell division, it makes sense that this insanely complicated process must fail quite frequently, and it's a good thing we don't try to save every defective cell that ever existed and turn it into an all-suffering, poor excuse for a human being.
3. More to the point, how many lives could be saved or improved through stem-cell therapies? Sure, it's going to be years down the line before these therapies are available for patients, and there will always be risk involved. But it would be a whole lot better than anything we have now. As I heard a bioethicist put it recently, any parent in the world would choose their child over a petri dish any day. If your kid/parent/best friend/spouse were sick, would you have a hard time choosing what to sacrifice? Sure, any time we crush bacterial cells for research, it's a sacrifice of a tiny microscopic life. But it's not a sin.
4. That said, and here is where I get fed up with Christian doctrine, I really think some of the older Indian philosophy makes more sense on this point. If you are so concerned with microscopic life forms - and that is what the embryo is at conception, microscopic - do you kill bugs? How many gnats and mosquitoes have you killed without a second thought? How many spiders? Or do you go out of your way to avoid killing bugs? Bacteria? Is taking an antibiotic going against God? How many people in this country follow religions that believe using antibiotics is a sin? Thousands? Millions? Are there really millions of people in this country who believe they will go to hell if they take penicillin?
More to the point, is an embryo really any better than a bug? Yeast? Bacteria? Let's be fair: if life counts at the single-cell level, then it shouldn't matter what kind of cell you are.
5. Stem cell research is not going to result in human cloning. At least, not in our lifetimes. I hate to break it you folks, but cloning cells and cloning animals are two totally different things. Even if stem cell research pans out in the next 20-30 years, human cloning won't even be an issue for a whole lot longer. Outlawing stem cell research now to prevent human cloning is a really good example of cutting off your nose to spite your face (and everyone who has to look at the bloody, gaping maw in the middle of your head).