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March 21, 2009

Fate of frozen embryos

Stem-cell research is controversial. There are strong and passionate voices on both sides. Ellen Goodman’s column (3/15, Opinion, “Fate of extra embryos an unanswered question”) presents a good discussion of the issues.

Many frozen embryos will never be used. They can never become humans unless they are implanted successfully and survive pregnancy. Those embryos are similar to accident victims whose lives are sustained mechanically when there is no hope for their recovery. For that case there are provisions to end life support and, with required permissions, to harvest organs that can aid others in need.

Taking those embryos off “life support” and using them to help those with otherwise incurable conditions, either directly or through research, should be a solution that could be embraced by all who value human life.

I am signing the organ donor permission on the back of my driver’s license. Wouldn’t those unused embryos want to do the same?

Roy Busdiecker
Overland Park
 
The battle over embryonic stem cell research is brewing again. The lines are drawn between those who believe life begins at conception and those who do not.

An embryo can be frozen for years at a time and removed later for implantation, but a living being cannot be frozen and brought back. Does life begin before or after we can be frozen? If a child and an embryo share life, then both should be able to be frozen and reborn.

Kenneth Paull
Overland Park

Comments

bud 25

The moral and ethics of medicine have come a long way since the Tuskegee airmen. The true crime was that these men were never told what their diagnosis actually was and did not have the option to participate in the study, or receive the care they needed for their diagnosis. We are young species and our ignorance is great, but we have come a long way since the time of the Tuskegee airmen. These great atrocities, to well defined human life, have brought about many changes and developed our view of what is truly ethical. I do agree that life is valuable and we should not be used as unwilling test subjects, I thought I made myself clear on that; if I didn’t I apologize

bud 25

Kate,
We have gotten off topic, all be it a topic worth discussing. We started talking about whether or not life began at conception, and I feel that I have made it clear that it does not. I cannot call 150 cells that are nothing more than blue prints to make a human life. That being said I see no problem with them being used for stem cell research.

We now jump to our other discussion on when life ends, which has been well documented and decided upon in medicine. Death is the complete cessation of vital functions, which we know means the heart has stopped. Brain death however is another form of death and is obviously where the emotions for the loved one come in. When a person is declared brain dead there is no higher brain function and the lower brain has enough control to keep the hear beating and the lungs functioning. The difficulty for the family is that the patient has no voluntary function of their body; they are in a true vegetative state. My question for you is if they have a soul does keeping them alive keep them from going on to where ever it is you believe they will go? If so, is it a selfish act to keep them from dieing?

Kate

Bud, Some religions believe life doesn’t begin until God puts a soul into the body – at a certain number of days into the pregnancy, or at quickening, or when the baby draws his first breath. You’ve replaced God with medical science, but the idea is the same. I think you’re all wrong, but I think your belief is the scariest because it does not recognize the intrinsic value of human life. And if human life has no intrinsic value, then there is nothing to prevent us from using the weak for utilitarian purposes.

You say that the experiments performed on the Tuskegee airmen were morally wrong, but at the time, medical science - the same authority you’re relying on now to tell you when experimentation is permissible - determined that the airmen’s lives were not as important as the lives they could help. I think that’s an important thing to keep in mind as we determine the fate of the youngest of us.

Kate

“Yes I do believe that life does not exist until the fetus can survive outside of the mother. I am in the medical field and believe that it is life when a fetus can live outside of the mother. The current time accepted by doctors, that a fetus can live outside of the mother is 26 weeks.”

So . . . according to your beliefs, this child is not alive. http://www.babycenter.com/fetal-development-images-25-weeks

Please tell me you’re not in obstetrics.

bud 25

I am saying life does not begin at conception. The embryo with 150 stem cells ready to make a human. This is like saying I have blue prints and materials so I have a building. Which I know is a rough analogy since a building isn't life, but you would not have life untill all organs needed for life are complete.

bud 25

Beaker

I am aware of the Japanese harvesting stem cells from skin cells; UCLA has even done the same thing. I find it sad though that you would rather these embryos be thrown out and destroyed, rather than allowing their destruction to benefit the entire human race. To say that an embryo of a 150 cells containing human DNA is life is ridiculous. DNA is nothing more than the blue prints to life, it does not indicate life. It is a bit like having the blue prints to the building. Just because you have the blue prints does not mean you have a building. I am astounded that you have such difficulty with interaction. I believe that Alzheimer patients are able to interact, given that a great majority of them respond to requests and the same could be said for the “mentally disabled”. Not interacting would be the patient who has been claimed legally brain dead and only has enough brain function to continue respirations.

I am greatly offended with the church comment, seeing as I do not go to church nor do I get my biology from the pope.

bud 25

Kate,

Yes I do believe that life does not exist until the fetus can survive outside of the mother. I am in the medical field and believe that it is life when a fetus can live outside of the mother. The current time accepted by doctors, that a fetus can live outside of the mother is 26 weeks. The experimentation on 33 week old fetuses should only pertain to the medical treatment they need for survival. Should they be experimented on in the fashion as Tuskegee Airmen? No. But certain clinical studies must be done as long as the parent has been made fully aware and agreed to the trial.

Now your question about patients on the other end of life is one that is a case by case type of scenario. Is the coma patient exhibiting enough brain activity to not declared brain dead? A patient that has been declared brain dead has no higher brain function, which means all that you see is simply involuntary brain function. The patients that are in fact brain dead are nothing more than the husk of the person you once loved. Patients that show enough brain activity to not be called brain dead are patients that deserve full medical care in hopes that they will recover. I believe that these patients deserve medical treatment for their condition, and only medical treatment that is showing promising results. I believe that what was done to the Tuskegee Airmen was both unethical and immoral.

beaker

Bud -

If you had done any research, you'd know that last year Japanese scientist successfully created stem cells from human skins cells, thus making the need for embryonic stem cells suspect. In addition, at this point, all major developments have been with these type of stem cells, no embryonic.

On another topic. You conveniently forget that the DNA and genetic code which defines a unique human being is in place at conception. That embryo has to be human, what else can it be? Biology dictates that a human has to come from a human. It cannot be anything else. Your definition "To define a human being you must first decide what it is to be human. Is it simply a bunch of cells doing what their programmed to do, or is it the ability to interact with the rest of living world." is pretty scary. Who defines what interacting with the rest of the living world is. Are Alzheimer's patients human? Are retarded people? Was Helen Keller?

I think you are the one that needs to do a little research and not listen to your "church"

Kate

So, according to your reasoning, a fetus is not a human being until it reaches the point that medical science allows it to live outside the womb, which changes from year to year.

You didn’t really answer my question about the other end of life. You say that an embryo cannot be called a human being because, despite the human DNA, it “exhibits no signs of life as we know it.” Can a person in a coma or an elderly person lying in a hospice bed be considered a human being? As an embryo is nothing more than a collection of cells, so these are nothing more than a collection of organs, unable to exist without the intervention of medical science.

Do you think experimentation should be allowed on all human lives that are not human beings? In other words, should we allow science to use healthy 33-week fetuses for experimentation? How about comatose adults, or elderly dementia patients?

At one time science considered some humans lower forms of life than others. Given the scientific knowledge of the times, were the experiments on the Tuskegee airmen morally justifiable?

bud 25

To define a human being you must first decide what it is to be human. Is it simply a bunch of cells doing what their programmed to do, or is it the ability to interact with the rest of living world. When they harvest cells from an embryo it is at the time called a blastocyst. This blastocyst consists of only 150 cells; these are the stem cells they are using. There are more cells in the brain of a house fly; there is no way to say it’s life. If the embryo is allowed to develop it does not develop it’s placenta till almost four weeks, organs don’t start till sometime close to 10 weeks. The fact is this embryo will not be capable of life separate from it’s placenta for sometime. Right now the best equipped NICU is capable of caring for 26 week preemies, but this is with the best care medicine has to offer. I would say that life truly doesn’t begin until around 34 weeks, this is the earliest a child can be born and require very little supportive care; other than what its’ parents provide normally. The opposite end of life is just as complicated. This is when you must listen to you doctors and what they have to say about your loved ones condition. There is a difference between involuntary reflexes and voluntary motion, so I do believe that brain death is when life ceases

Kate

If you don’t believe an 8-day old embryo is a human being, then at what point do you think it becomes a human being? And if human life can exist (as these human embryos are alive) but not be a “human being” then is it possible that at the other end of a person’s life, he can be alive, but not a “human being”?

bud 25

I find it difficult to call an embryo a human being. The embryo's are only allowed to mature to about eight days, at what point they are nothing more than stem cells. These stem cells have the ability to grow into anything, but at this point they are nothing specific. There are no cells’ yet forming the brain, heart, lung, or nerve tissue which is just some of the tissues of the human body. If this small group of cells exhibits no signs of life as we no it, how can we call it a life? If we were to implant all these frozen embryos into women to develop, we would quickly increase the population to a level that would be unsustainable on this planet.

ggbridge

Wow! Way to go Kate! You've snarked everyone into submission again without managing to further the discussion one iota. I can only aspire to be like you!

Kate

Bud, since my views on embryonic stem cell research are most closely aligned with religions that I do not belong to, I’d have to say no, I’m not just following what the church has told me.

As to researching the subject – reading about embryonic stem cell research leads me to the conclusion that it involves the intentional destruction of innocent human beings. If you have details that indicate otherwise, I’d welcome hearing them. And I won’t even insult you by suggesting that you’re just taking some politician’s stance as your own.

bud 25

I have question on the topic of education, have any of you researched the details of this stem cell research? Have you looked at what is being done during these experiments, or just have you just taken the churches stance as your own?

Kate

The Johnson County school systems are supposed to be some the finest in the area; therefore, I can only assume that Mr. Paull moved to OP after graduation.

Kate

“I am signing the organ donor permission on the back of my driver’s license. Wouldn’t those unused embryos want to do the same?”

I don’t know. Let’s ask them.

Mr. Busdiecker makes a flawed comparison between organ donation and embryonic stem cell research. Once respirators are turned off, the patient is dead, and then the organs can be used for transplant, if that is the patient’s wish. Once the embryos are thawed, they are living beings – which would then be used for experimentation.

A better comparison would be the removal of a healthy person’s heart so it could be used for transplant. Whether the donor is willing or not, we do not allow organ donation that CAUSES the death of the donor.

Kee

Let's see now embryonic stem cells have provided cures for..........., and oh yes, they have shown to stop ................., and who could forget that................

 
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