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Ownership of Human Life

1 Mar

Ownership of Human Life

By Ernie Zarra, Ph.D.

Competition has always been the bedrock of American economics. Adam Smith, political philosopher and economic genius of his day, wrote about the invisible hand. Within that discourse, he penned these words: “Profit is the motivator, and competition is the regulator.” How true. How true.

Profits. Profits are why most of us work. The notion that there is somehow a purist out there, akin to Mother Theresa, and works tirelessly, selflessly, or otherwise spending oneself for the sake of a higher purpose is more fiction than fact, I am afraid. In the words of Gordon Gecko, vis-a-vis Wall Street fame, “Greed is good.” Art imitates life and sometimes it is the other way around, in fact. Greed certainly is not good and is not about what is good. Greed is about “goods.” Allow me to begin with such a premise.

We all do things for “self.” Politicians who claim to have the American people’s best interests at heart, or claim to be doing the will of the people, are just plain rambling rhetoricians. Religious leaders whose gospel is about “American rights and civil discourse,” are preaching a religion of racial or political sectarianism. These are the “goods” from the systems in which this emerge, and they are self-serving. Such systems are fraught with competition, per se.

What I plan to address in the following is honestly controversial and might very well offend some readers. I apologize for any disagreement that might be taken personally. But I do not apologize for speaking what I truly and honestly comprehend as the truth. Truth never has to apologize. But honesty? It may have to be couched in apology after apology.

These past few years have pitted some very distinguished groups against each other. Most of these groups are concerned with issues of life–some for moral reasons, and some for monetary reasons. Some of these groups seek ownership of products through patents. All of the groups are seeking profits, in one form or another, including the storing and purchasing of human tissue and body parts. Many university and private research labs are seeking names for themselves, and make “no bones” about asking for federal funding.

Monday, March 9, 2009 President Barack Obama (#44) signed an Executive Order revoking the limitation of “Federal funding for research involving human embryonic stem cells.” (www.whitehouse.gov) What the president has done with this order is to pit life advocates against life advocates.

Recall, President George W. Bush (#43) signed a moratorium on federal funding of any new embryonic stem cells lines. He did not ban private groups or private money. Bush was pro-life and Obama is certainly different than Bush, in politics, decisions, and fundamental beliefs about life.

Essentially, Bush allowed the Clinton administration’s advanced research to continue only under private monies, while funding the Clinton’s existing embryo experimentation programs, when he took office in 2001. Federal funds did go to existing stem cell research at the time through the NIH (National Institutes of Health)—but not to any new stem cell lines of research.

Let’s take a brief look at the current president’s fundamental rationale for removing any barriers in experimenting with embryos in his executive order. First, Obama says he wants to “enhance the contributions of America’s scientists to important new discoveries and new therapies for the benefit of mankind.” Second, the president writes that he “is a man of faith,” and his faith is a driving for helping mankind.

At this point, many readers of this piece (making a great assumption here), are probably thinking I am against stem cell generation, harvesting, and research–including therapies derived from such scientific and medical breakthroughs and programs. Nothing could be farther from the truth!

I know many people in my daily sphere who are medical professionals. I rub shoulders in the real world with physicians. I pick the brains of scientific researchers. I have coffee with oncologists, and have met with and lunched with neurologists. Some of these and other medical experts are close friends. Several of these experts are religious, but not all. Some have deeper ethical beliefs than others, but so do we all. Just to assure the reader, I have done a little homework on this topic. Doctors and their profession is not so ideological so as to bypass financial and economic endeavors.

There is serious competition today between university and private research groups seeking to patent human genome discoveries. There is a “race to trace” the patterns of genetic structures. Also, the science world seems bent on patenting human embryos, which scientists fertilize in labs. These same embryos are stored in “embryo banks,” often the result of paid college-age donors’ sperm and eggs.

Europe, Australia, and North America continue to bring requests to own “human life” before their courts. The same is true for the proposition of human cloning. Human cloning has been billed as the “perfect fit” science. Allow me to explain.

If a person had a clone of himself, then any worn out part cold easily be extracted from a storehouse of parts, or a clone-bank, like unto what is already done with corneas, blood, and other organs that are harvested. Clones would make it possible to have a perfect fit for our own bodies, theoretically allowing for a personal warehouse for each of us.

With the passage of Obama’s order, the argument of removing barriers to science is one step closer to removing another barrier: human cloning. Some call this a “step in the right direction.” Others call it a slippery slope. I am in the camp of the latter. Science is never satisfied with status quo. Politicians politicize. Legislators legislate. Scientists scientize. Thus, professional and scientific competition is on! The race for patents and profits is a Gordon Gecko mantra made-to-order!

I find the President Obama incredibly naive in at least two areas: (1) He thinks scientists and scientific advanced are both enhanced by ending human life, and (2) His faith causes him to overlook moral and ethical issues. His experience and decisions demonstrate that he is firs a man of politics. His sacrifice of morality and ethics is glaring.

Who or what gives any president the authority to determine that human embryos are a matter of experimentation? I know what gives him the power. But I am talking about authority. If he is a man of faith, I ask “what faith?” Faith in science? Faith is whom, faith in what, faith in what sets of beliefs? Valid questions–ALL OF THEM.

The reader has already picked up on the fact that I am against using embryos for scientific experimentation. Such experimentation creates niche markets and eventually such a supply is available only to elitists demonstrating the wherewithal of demand. So, what are the alternatives to this mad, competitive drive to own human property?

There exist at least eight stem cell therapies already–including the use of adult stem cells that come so very close to the stem cells of the embryo. The Bush moratorium in 2001 actually enabled scientists more broad discoveries and realistic therapies, than would have been discovered if everyone was focused only on the use of embryos for therapies. There is only a “promise of potential” in the use of embryos. Are the moral and ethical, political and fiscal costs worth the “possible” benefits, knowing we already have so much helpful therapy available, presently? I do not think so, for many of the reasons already stated.

Embryonic Stem Cells. Let’s review exactly what an embryonic stem cell is all about. At the point of conception (fertilization) between sperm and egg, a zygote is formed. Within 3-5 days, due to rapid cellular reproduction, the package of cells is supercharged and is programmed to continue rapid multiplication. Throughout this reproduction, the DNA is present for a complete human being, with all the earmarks of a potential living, breathing person.

At around the five day mark, these “super-cells” are not yet marked for any specific tissue, and have the potential to develop into any tissue, if manipulated. So, the issue of embryonic stem cell research, then, is about scientists intervening at the point of human conception. They then remove the super-cells from the “blastocyst” (3-5 day-old embryo), and discard the rest. They throw away, as waste, the parts of human life that are not “needed.” The theory behind the use of these super cells is that they would be introduced into diseased areas of bodies to grow new tissue, or support existing good tissue.

Because the size of what is being used is small, it is visually insignificant. No one has seen a soul, yet many of us believe the invisible to be quite valid and essential to human life. To many people in the United States, the soul is implanted at the point of conception, and “being-ness” becomes an reality. We must question that if the president is a man of faith, does his faith inform him about this dimension?

Alternatives to the Use of Embryos. Presently, stem cells are grown from blood, placenta, spinal fluid, organs, and several other areas of already, fully grown adult stem cells and tissue. Such donations of bodily material and fluids are not resulting in forfeiture of human life. These are donations that enhance life. Embryonic stem cell research pits scientists against human conception, and it is NOT a fair competition. Conceived human life always seems to lose against the “possibility” of saving the human life of one already born.

The president has pitted those with disabilities, illnesses, and diseases against those who would seek to protect embryos from experimentation and destruction. I can assure you I am not against science and I have empathy for those who are suffering. Again, I would like science to be free to find cures–not at the expense of the life of another, or human life at its fundamental source.

Destruction of human life–and everyone agrees that is exactly what is being done–for human life is unfair and unjust competition. It will result in economic monopolies. Whenever human life is seen as “property,” we lose our moral compass. Just the mention of the terms slavery, abortion–and now embryos–in the same breath, sends shivers down my spine. Involve the government in the same discussion and other historical contexts resonate.

I asked earlier where the president, a man of faith, got his authority to decide the fate of embryos. Solomon’s words are appropriate here: “No man has authority to restrain the wind, or authority over the day of death; and there is no discharge in time of war, and evil will not deliver those who practice it.” (Ecclesiastes 8:8)

The president’s naiveté, or his blatant disregard in not considering the depths of morality on the issue before the reader is in line with his style of political leadership-not his faith. Going into greater debt fiscally in order to climb out of fiscal debt is just plain dumb. Going into greater moral debt to climb out of what he sees as “8-years of failed political and moral policy” debt is even worse. If these are the principles of faith to live by, we might, down-the-road, very well have to apologize to other groups for their eugenics and fetal experimentations. I sure hope not.

In closing, the president’s actions of late have disenfranchised the three largest bases of religious groups in America. Roman Catholics, Evangelical Christians, and Mormons . . . add whomever else you will to the mix. Is this the man of faith and principle we are talking about? Is this the man of change?

Life v. Life . . . a Barack Obama special edition of “I can do what I damn well please, and there ain’t nothin’ anyone can do about it.” Well, game on, Mr. President. I am glad you have put down the cigarettes. Now it is time for the teleprompter to hit the road.

 

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