A Tale of Two Lives

A Tale of Two Lives
by Douglas K. Barth

It’s the year 2012.  Meet Susan and Jim.  They are the parents of Emily, who just turned two and is their pride and joy.  Susan and Jim have always wanted a boy and girl, and last week they learned their dream may come true.  Susan is a few weeks pregnant.  They’re hoping for a boy and have already named him Joshua.  Only one problem with their dream: Emily has a terminal disease and won’t make it to adulthood.  Yesterday, a new doctor, upon learning Susan was pregnant, told them surgeons can now take stem cells from Joshua and transplant them into Emily which will cure her disease.  The procedure needs to be done now.  Joshua, however, will die from it.

Should we destroy one life with the hope of saving someone else’s life?

Welcome to the embryonic stem cell debate.  Some say that an embryo is not a living human being, just tissue.  So creating embryos through cloning to produce embryonic stem cells for harvesting is no problem.  Are they right?  Scientifically, “life” is characterized by metabolism, growth, reaction to stimuli, and reproduction.  An embryo has these characteristics; it is “living.”  An embryo also contains human DNA; it is “human.”  Think of an embryo like the film in those old Polaroid cameras.  You pointed, clicked, and out came a photo which was all black and took time to develop.  When you clicked the shutter, everything instantly went in the film which over time developed into the photograph – even though what you first saw on the film was total darkness.

Unlike the story, embryonic stem cells have yet to cure one disease or even come remotely close.  But stem cells taken from adults, where no life is destroyed, have.  Studies have reported at least 73 human conditions where a person’s health has been improved through adult stem cell therapy.  Millions of dollars, however, are being thrown at embryonic stem cell research (ESCR) because certain scientists speculate that embryonic stem cells hold more promise for curing disease than do adult stem cells.

Among other breakthroughs in adult cellular research, scientists recently reported that embryonic-type stem cells can now be produced directly from ordinary human skin cells.  No embryos are created or destroyed in this process.  Scientist Ian Wilmut, who created the process used in cloning embryos, thinks so highly of the new research that he has abandoned ESCR.  Unfortunately, some will insist on continuing ESCR because so much has already been invested in it.

Idaho has a special opportunity to learn more about these potentially life-saving developments.  Cornerstone Institute of Idaho is bringing Dr. David Prentice, an internationally known expert on stem cell research, to BSU on Tuesday, January 22nd, at 7:00 p.m. and to Northwest Nazarene University in Nampa on Thursday, January 24th, at 3 p.m.  The public is invited to both presentations.
Society should have the utmost compassion for those with debilitating diseases and strive to find cures.  At the same time, science must be governed by ethical standards that protect all of life, including our weakest members of society.  With the latest advancements in adult cellular research, both goals can be achieved.  Emily can live and Joshua can be born.