From Stem Cells To Monsters: Laboratories At Work

May 20, 2008 09:00 AM
When scientists go to work on a project, one has to assume there is going to be either a good result or a failed attempt. And, if you are familiar with the cartoon show, Dexter's Laboratory, you know that there can also be a humorous side to the world of scientific exploration. However, what is happening in Great Britain is not at all funny, while what is happening here and there in America is indeed uplifting. 
Yesterday's headlines offered us both the heart-warming and the heart-wrenching. I think you'll see what I mean.

Andre Lampkin, a young man from Florida with a bright future in athletics, fell ill earlier this year and it was discovered that the cause of his illness, which nearly forced the amputation of his arms and legs, was bacterial meningitis.

As his condition stabilized with the use of antibiotics, and doctors pondered whether or not to amputate his extremities, Andre's aunt searched the internet and found a doctor in the Dominican Republic who was working on an experimental treatment that involved the use of the patient's stem cells to treat problems that involved the heart, lung and kidney. Doctor Grekos, the man developing this treatment, said he had never used this stem cell therapy to help a patient suffering tissue decay due to meningitis, but he was more than willing to try.

Fundraisers were held to help Andre get the treatment, and today he is back home and appears to be on the mend, though more treatment will be needed in the coming months. Andre has a long way to go in the process ahead, but the same determination that made him a great football player is going to prove a tremendous asset on the road to recovery.

Another great story centers on two-year-old Elio Burgos who, at three months of age, was diagnosed with optic nerve hypoplasia, which means that his vision would be no better than 20/300. His parents did a lot of research and finally located a facility that uses umbilical stem cell treatments to help restore vision in cases like Elio's. There is no facility in the United States, however, that offers the treatment, so the family travelled to Hangzhou, China, where he received four stem cell infusions. Elio's vision has subsequently improved dramatically, and he can now identify pictures of his family and focus on objects. A miracle, to be certain, thanks to diligent parents, a loving family and ethical progress in stem cell research.

Not all the news is good news. We have learned that, in Great Britain, efforts to legitimize the mixing of animal and human cells for the purpose of creating additional material for scientific research have been approved by Parliament. This is the first time in more than 20 years that embryo science has been addressed by politicians in that country and ferocious debate on ethical implications is rising. The problems with this process have been discussed in my blog before.

Human Genetics Alert, a watchdog group in Great Britain, has published concerns about this advancing scientific nightmare and points out that, whether we like it or not, such research raises the specter of eugenics. They point out that, in the future, we could see a time when families are living in a world of "consumer eugenics" where,
 
  • genetically “enhanced” human embryos are traded as commodities,
  • parents choose their children's characteristics like any other consumer product and
  • the rich are able to give their children built-in biological advantages over the rest of us.

This may sound like something out of science fiction, but combining animal and human cells is step two in that process. Human embryonic stem cell research was step number one.

HGA warns visitors to their web site,
 
DO NOT BE DECEIVED by promises that this research will prevent suffering and genetic diseases. In fact, it is absolutely unnecessary. Many disability rights organizations say that all attempts to prevent the birth of disabled children are a continuation of eugenics, a view that HGA has much sympathy with. This [is] a very difficult issue, which cannot be properly dealt with here. But if parents wish to avoid having children with genetic conditions, then there are already many options: they can use sperm or egg donors, pre-natal testing and abortion, or genetic testing of embryos; or they can simply remain childless or adopt children. What genetic engineering can do that other technologies cannot is to produce “enhanced” “designer” babies and that is where the real market will be. Once we allow the technology to be developed for medical reasons, it will be impossible to prevent its use, here or in other countries, for “enhancement” purposes, just as drugs and surgery are being used now.

This sort of experimentation denies the value and dignity of the human person and his right to be procreated within the context of the marital act as designed by God. Not only that, but unlike the reports about Andre and Elio, the experiments being approved in Great Britain have no moral or ethical defense in the real world, where treatments are being developed that will actually help those in need, rather than offering a promise of designer children or genetically enhanced human-animal combos.

The situation in Great Britain is yet another sign of the downward spiral that occurs when science is divorced from the natural law. And the concerns raised in Great Britain by those who have not yet lost their moral compass should be shared by each and every one of us.
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