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Embryonic Stem Cell’s Brave New World of Research Funding

May 12, 2010

Embryonic Stem Cell’s Brave New World of Research Funding


One of the worst kept secrets in the scientific world is that embryologists are looking for a new job since the proliferation of IVF technology. They have become a victim of their own success in many ways. Just a few decades ago Embryologists were an exclusive clique of just a few people who knew the secrets. Now after travelling all over the world training doctors and nurses the shrouds of mystery have been lifted and IVF clinics have been set up in almost every corner of the world. People no longer have to go to see the world authority on IVF anymore because the technology has been so franchised that your local milk bar could almost do it. The issue now as one embryologist explained to me was that they all need to look for future careers in medical research because their IVF careers are coming to an end. Is it any wonder that we have hails from the same scientists when great wads of cash will start flowing back into their lives.


The argument put forward by a vast lobby group of pro Embryonic Stem Cell (ES) research is based upon the notion that something may come of it. So far nothing has come of ES research except a number of promises. Yet for Adult Stem Cells the results have been much more promising. Two years ago the scientist who cloned the sheep ‘Dolly’ Professor Wilmut announced that he was getting out of this line of research because it lacked any real potential. “The work which was described from Japan of using a technique to change cells from a patient directly into stem cells without making an embryo has got so much more potential.” In other words, there is no scientific or urgent reason to use Embryos for scientific research.


Why has there been such a push to follow a line of scientific study that has: no proven potential; is highly controversial and ethically questionable? Are embryologists merely protecting their incomes by peddling snake oil and false hope? This question never seems to be asked. Yet the push for ES research dollars would go absolutely nowhere if there wasn’t a large number of lobby groups and politicians pushing it also.


It would be a sad reflection on human morality and intelligence if the only argument for ES research is that it was opposed by George W Bush. That fails to consider the issue separately from political revenge. Yet many arguments you see do start with this kind of flawed lines of reasoning. ‘The church opposes, so therefore it must be correct,‘ is basically the level at which the debate is being run. Yet for people who cannot break out of this kind of adversary mindset the ethical debate is already over. It is nothing more than Good Science versus Evil Religion; Merciful Life Savers versus Evil Merchants of Death; Compassionate Doctors versus Evil People who like to see sick patients suffer. The whole argument becomes a farce that can be summed up as everything that ES Scientists say or do is ‘Good’ and anyone who questions it is ‘Evil’. Even if life was a cartoon these types of arguments would be as infantile as: “4 legs good. 2 legs bad.”


There are other groups who have thrown their support for political reasons of their own. Finding a line of research that sanctifies and purifies the destruction of human embryos suits them very well. ES research offers to radical pro-abortionist activists a moral flag to wave at people. Instead of being a question of human life being lost it becomes falsely framed as a noble lifesaving cause. By institutionalizing the destructions of embryos it becomes a way of avoiding a debate about whether it is human or not. Just as slaves were considered subhuman, embryos have been redefined as non human entities with no intrinsic value. This may be good politics for the slaver and the abortionist but is not a rational line of argument.


We are still left with several clear points of difference in the debate on Embryonic Stem Cell research. These points of difference come from the intrinsic value of a human life and what is a human being. Human enforced definitions dreamed up by political animals and greedy profiteers offer a poor starting point. And to argue that the debate was resolved by doctors years ago show absolute ignorance of the subject matter.


We can look at a situation and wonder why this has been let go on in such an obviously unscientific manner. Where all the progress in Stem Cell Research has come from Adult Stem Cell research why is funding being directly diverted to the line of research that has produced nothing? Most people seem to not know the difference between the Adult or Embryonic research and see progress in one as supporting the case for the other. Yet we are constantly being nagged that ES research is the only way and anyone who opposes it is mindlessly ignorant or pure evil. We are being offered a panacea of cures for everything from brain damage to paralysis. The cures do not exist yet, but we are being told that they will turn up one day. This is not rational science but a sales pitch for twenty first century snake oil? And is it a sales pitch that is preying upon the fears and false hopes of sick people? Will the researchers still get funding regardless of the results?


The decision of some governments to reverse the ban on funding ES research may have been hailed by its financial recipients and ideological supporters but it has implications beyond ‘good and expedient politics’.

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