Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Equalizing stem cells

From the reality-based community viewpoint

"The reprogrammed skin cells, by contrast, appear to hold the same properties as embryonic stem cells" according the New York Times.

Presumably, that also includes the ability to grow into a full-fledged human being, if implanted into the proper medium (uterus). Yet theologists such as Richard Doerflinger hailed this advance as the solution to the moral quagmire of embryonic stem cell extraction, which now may not require destruction of an embryo, anyway.

Why is the reformulated skin cell OK to use? If its identical to the stem cell that became my fetus 39 years ago, what makes it OK to experiment on now? Put another way, if I have embryonic stem cell "A" in my left hand, and a re-formulated skin cell "B" in my right, with either having the potential to grow into a human, what makes the one in my left hand holy?

Is it intent? The cell on my left was created by a process of fertilization that was designed to create a new person. Does some kind of "fit-for-purpose" spiritual calculation imbue that cell with a soul upon the biological union of sperm and egg? That immediately makes me think of the 75% of all embryos and fetuses that are naturally disposed of, never destined to develop because of a defect, or because the host mother is unable to house them. They were created with the same intent.

I'm sure Catholicism has an answer for that question, since it's not new, and that's actually something I admire about Catholic scholarship, from Augustine onward - the attempt to use rationality and logic to define spiritual boundaries. Its the convoluted results of that scholarship that leaves Catholics open to scorn from other Christian sects, but at least they try.