Wednesday, 11 June 2008

Stem Cells

I have rather belatedly come across this perceptive post about the recent debate on the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill.

This week, Britain's Labour Party made remarkable progress in securing the country's reputation as the most scientifically illiterate and morally obtuse hamlet in the Western world. At the urging of Prime Minister Gordon Brown, both houses of Parliament defeated amendments to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill that would have outlawed the creation of "chimerical embryos."

... Whether from honest ignorance or blatant dishonesty, Brown attempts to convince the public that chimerical research is not only necessary but vital for biomedical research.

Since adult stem cells are "already being used in treatments for conditions including leukemia and heart disease," explains the Prime Minister, "scientists are close to the breakthroughs that will allow embryonic stem cells to be used to treat a much wider range of conditions, especially those affecting the brain and nervous system."

While it is true that adult stem cells have been used in treatments for over 70 diseases and [conditions], it is patently false that "scientists are close" to breakthroughs using embryonic stem cells. The question, as framed by Professor Sherley [from the Program in Regenerative Biology and Cancer, Boston], is not "How soon could human embryonic stem cells be used for cures?" but rather, "Could human embryonic stem cells ever be used for cures?"

Answer: "When the errant biological properties of human embryonic stem cells are considered, it is difficult to foresee them ever being used directly as cures in children or adults...figuring out how to use human embryonic stem cells directly by transplantation into patients is tantamount to solving the cancer problem."

In other words, embryonic stem cell research will start producing cures as soon as we figure out how to cure cancer.

And stem cells derived from cloned embryos are even less useful. Even the New England Journal of Medicine backhandedly admits that such research is likely to be fruitless, because the "technical difficulties and ethical complexities of this approach [cloned human embryonic stem cells] were always likely to render it impractical."

... In clinging to their willful ignorance, Brown and his Labour Party are attempting to deny the reality of bioethics and bioscience. But as Aldous Huxley once observed, "Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored."

The full article is here.