Stem cell editorial criticized

February 2, 2010
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Dear Editor

The Jan. 18 editorial “Roadblocks to Research Are Deplorable” was noteworthy for its patronizing, sneering tone toward those residents of our state who do not believe that anything that is legal and pragmatic must therefore be ethical. The writer characterizes as fiction and myth what many people hold as a matter of ethical, philosophical and/or religious conviction regarding the immorality of embryonic stem cell research. These people include many physicians, geneticists, researchers and plenty of others who are far from club-wielding cave dwellers.

Readers should realize that the real fictions and myths about embryonic stem cell research are the imagined breakthroughs which supposedly have been accomplished by employing manufactured human beings as merely useful experimental tissue. Is the writer aware of recent Japanese success in re- or de-programming of adult stem cells back to pluripotent status, the equivalent of the embryonic stage? Very competent geneticists have been advising for some time that this kind of discovery has basically made the question of the use of embryos for experimentation obsolete.

To imply that those opposed to embryonic stem cell research would rather see people suffer is equivalent to the argument that those who oppose legal abortion favor women being butchered in back alleys. Demonize the opposition by stripping them of all humanity and decency, and you weigh in on emotional grounds rather than with the alleged “facts” at which the writer hints but fails to actually cite. Although the writer claims that “one could make similar arguments against organ transplants,” no similar arguments have been raised in that regard. The editorial tries to claim legitimacy by creating a straw man.

The real challenge is to find ways to bring healing and relief without doing damage to living human beings — something our local Van Andel Institute has pledged itself to do. It’s a short step from using “discarded” embryonic stem cells to actively producing them in order to get more and better specimens.

Ethics cannot be decided by majority vote. Jim Crow laws were instituted and kept in place for years in many states of the Union, but being legal did not make them morally right. What precisely would the editorialist have us believe? That there is no place for ethics in science and medicine? That there should be no limits on what we should do as long as we can? That compassion alone, rather than the lure of huge monetary profits, dictates the goals of the stem cell, abortion and medical marijuana industries? That researchers, like politicians and journalists, are driven solely by the highest and noblest motives? Who is it, in the final analysis, who is dealing in fiction and myth?

Fr. Dennis W. Morrow
Pastor, St. James/SS. Peter & Paul Churches
Grand Rapids

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