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Stem Cells Can Prevent Childhood Blindness

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Guest blogger Kate Tuttle: Imagine that you found out your child has a rare, incurable disease that will rob him of his eyesight by the time he graduates from high school. It's genetic: He got it from one of his parents, neither of whom realized they carried this recessive gene. All you can do is wait, and try to help teach him the skills he'll need to navigate life as a blind person. Now imagine that a new therapy has been developed that could restore your child's vision, or save it before it went away. A miracle! Hallelujah! Except the treatment is controversial: It uses embryonic stem cells, the genetic material previously forbidden to be used in any government-funded projects.

stem cell lab
Now the FDA has approved the stem cell treatment, which uses cells harvested from discarded embryos created during the IVF process. Not surprisingly, despite the U.S. government's reversal of the stem cell policy, many remain opposed to the use of embryonic stem cells, imagining a future in which egg and sperm come together not to create a child, but to furnish medical products to save others. I am staunchly pro-choice, but I do understand the concerns. Nobody wants to live in a world in which human beings are pressed into service as spare parts. Still, I think some of these worries are a bit overstated, and they do not take into account the actual science involved. 

According to doctors at the Stem Cell Program at Children's Hospital, Boston, the IVF embryos used in stem cell therapies are those which would have been discarded anyway. These are not the fertilized eggs that could become "snowflake babies," implanted into non-related couples as a kind of prenatal adoption. These are what they call "early-arrested embryos," which have virtually no chance of implanting and developing into a baby. Using them to save a living child's eyesight seems to me no different than using a donated organ from a person who has died -- not trivial, but not evil, either. 

Clinical trials are expected to begin early next year. Moms, what do you think?

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39 comments so far | Post a comment now
KS November 30, 2010, 10:25 AM

I think if you don’t want to live in a world where babies are created only to be killed and used to make living peoples lives easier then you should never even consider it an option.

Being blind is not something to take lightly but creating a human only to kill it so you don’t have to deal with being blind is morally corrupt.

The scientific community will only go as far as they are allowed to go and this is a slippery slope none of us should go down. Scientist should be looking into other avenues to cure disease and genetic abnormalities. People should live healthier lives with less pollutants.

We should as a society should shun this practice because the repercussions are so damaging and far reaching not even the scientist making new discoveries today know what the impact is going to be.

I also don’t see what being pro choice has to do with taking a moral stance on this issue. This is not a woman’s rights issue but it is absolutely morally wrong. Would you create 15 or more babies with your husband only to kill all of them in an attempt to make one child’s life easier?

Anonymous November 30, 2010, 12:48 PM

@ks you obviously did not read the whole article it stated that only eggs that would otherwise just be thrown out are used

KS November 30, 2010, 1:35 PM

Anonymous, obviously you did not read my first paragraph. I have a grasping of what the scientific community is capable of and their ability to justify morally bankrupt and unethical research. The case of Henrietta Lacks is the first that comes to mind at the moment. The horrific medical experiments done during the second world war comes to mind too. Like I said the scientific community will go as far as they are allowed to.

Matt November 30, 2010, 7:11 PM

Claiming that “creating a life only to kill is morally corrupt” only shows that you didn’t understand the article at all and are only going on how YOU THINK the process works, when in reality it’s not that way at all. Just because you have what you think to be “a grasp of what the scientific community is capable of” doesn’t mean you are right at all. Referencing the Nazi’s experiments has nothing to do with the article, they were awful and tried to take life away unlike the scientists of today trying to extend life and make it better, but they can’t because of people like you. Just because YOU don’t agree with it doesn’t mean it won’t benefit the greater good. Just because you believe that a fetus is a living thing even though it doesn’t move, talk, eat(in the sense of the way people eat), have emotions and most importantly BREATHE doesn’t mean that everyone shares your opinions so don’t sit there and think that you are so high and mighty because you wouldn’t “deprive life” from a non living thing to save the life of a living one when others would because as far as i’m concerned, we should be trying to advance stem cell research and other procedures similar. It is all about the greater good, and you just don’t seem to understand that. I feel sorry for you that you are so closed minded.

Anonymous December 1, 2010, 5:42 AM

Well said Matt!!

I am totally behind stem cell research. These embryos aren’t babies. They are just some egg & sperm hooked up that are going to be trashed anyway. Use it for good!! It’s not like they are making a real, LIVE baby and using it for spare parts.

G December 1, 2010, 8:35 AM

Please, please KS never again compare Nazis and their experiments to case of Henrietta Lacks (I wouldn’t compare it stem cell research either). When talking about Nazi experiments, you speak about dangerous (in most cases deadly) and cruel (physiologically and mentally) experiments made to living breathing and most importantly feeling being. What was made to Ms Lacks is wrong and unethical and should not never happen again but she wasn’t affected by it. Her family probably suffered but (if it can even be compared) not in way that people Nazis experienced with.

I think that stem cell research is a good thing and will save and help many people. But it is a slippery slope but so is organ donating. And most importantly it is here and we can’t turn clock back and fighting against the techonoly will only cost lives. What we should do IMO is make sure we are prepared to this, that we have laws and guidelines to help ensure that we don’t use this technology unethically. There will be people who will use this wrongly but there probably will be more of those people if we aren’t prepared.

And it saves lives and better quality of lives and when used ethically I can’t see why not

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