Researchers announced Monday they had injected embryonic stem cells into a patient suffering from a spinal cord injury. It marked the world's first human clinical trial of a procedure developed from such a source. The procedure took place at Shepherd Center, a spinal cord injury facility in Atlanta. The use of embryonic stem cells for such purposes had been banned under the Bush administration, but allowed under the Obama administration.
The question is why?
In June 2009, Chinese scientists were the first in the world to induce cells from pigs to transform into pluripotent stem cells. Last April, the Scripps Research Institute in San Diego announced the discovery of a new technique that makes artificial stem cells safer for human transplantation.
The artificial cells, called induced pluripotent stem cells, are made from fully differentiated adult cells, regressed back into an embryonic-like state. These act-alike embryonic stem cells don't carry the ethical difficulties of real embryonic stem cells, taken from days-old embryos.
President Obama, like President Clinton before him, claims to want to make abortion "safe, legal and rare." It is reasonable to say that curbing the use of embryonic stem cells might help make abortion if not less common, then at least less acceptable and restore a small scintilla of respect for human life as something more valuable than, say, a cabbage, or other species in the animal kingdom that enjoy the protection of law.
The answer to the "why?" question has something to do with how we view ourselves. If you are an evolutionist who does not believe in a Creator who endowed us with the right to life, you might be more liberal in your approach to manipulating human tissue for the "benefit" of others. But that still doesn't justify using embryonic stem cells when artificial ones appear to function just as well.
If, on the other hand, you think "playing God" is not good for the human race and that other ways to relieve suffering can, should and, in fact, are being discovered, you are more likely to want to control human urges to do whatever can be done in a laboratory.
Appeals to the uniqueness of human life are likely to fall on deaf ears if you are an evolutionist. Reminders of the horrors unrestrained scientists have created in the past are likely to be viewed as an aberration.
In retrospect, great horrors are usually seen as springing up full-formed. Many people didn't notice the small steps that led to the Nazi Holocaust or to the selling of African slaves in the public square. Senses must first be dulled; religion trivialized; and self enthroned before tolerance for the horrific is accepted.
Cal Thomas is co-author (with Bob Beckel) of the book, "Common Ground: How to Stop the Partisan War That is Destroying America".
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