Embryos under the knife

By Lori B. Andrews

By Salon Staff
Published August 24, 2000 7:26PM (EDT)

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I just read with horror your article on embryo research. As a past fertility patient (with four children) the use of the term "unwanted" in connection with these frozen babies amazed me. The fact that Christopher Reeve could even think these babies were potential throwaways was appalling. ALL of these babies were desperately wanted by someone. When faced with the form you spoke of, we elected to check the "donate to another couple" box.

Just because we feel OUR family is complete doesn't mean these babies forfeit their opportunity for birth. We will never know if the couple that adopted our embryos actually got to hold a baby, but we do know we gave them the chance. The rest was up to God.

-- Koren Shisler Rhoads

I am against embryo research because I don't believe we can discriminate against human beings based on their level of development, prenatal or postnatal. Biologically speaking, human development begins at conception and continues until death. I am not convinced by the argument that embryos have yet to attain personhood. It seems to me that "becoming a person" is a continuous process of development that takes place not just before birth, but after birth as well. A 2-year-old lacks the ability to make intelligent choices, an important aspect of being a person possessed by a 20-year-old. However, the 2-year-old still has the same inalienable rights of a person.

I don't think our liberal democracy, which is based on the upholding of inalienable human rights, can tolerate any fuzziness on what constitutes a human being. An embryo is human, and it exists. It is human and it is a being whose existence can be confirmed by observation (unlike an angel, spirit, etc.). It seems to me the system of ethics which regards an embryo as a human being makes the fewest philosophical and/or theological assumptions about what constitutes a human being.

-- Mike Sanregret

I am a 29-year-old cardiomyopathy patient, diagnosed about 10 years ago. Through diet, routine supervision and constant adjustment of my medications, I lead a pretty normal life: I work, travel, play recreational tennis, etc. However, I have already suffered numerous cases of heart failure (congestion) and arrhythmia, which is extremely debilitating. Basically, my cardiologist has told me and my wife that I have about five to seven years before I'll need to be placed on a transplant list.

For obvious reasons, I keep very attuned to current medical research in biotechnology. I feel that embryonic and fetal research will prove to be a huge blessing to the tens of thousands who suffer from organ disease and who wait ceaselessly for all-too-rare donated organs.

I would like the self-appointed moralist who wrote this commentary to explain to my wife and family her belief that this available technology simply "fulfill(s) individual desire," and should be squandered after I have DIED waiting on the list for a heart transplant.

All these pundits who talk of slippery slopes and potential paths should meet some of the many Americans whose lives would be saved through this technology. Perhaps then they would not be so high-minded, moralistic or damned preachy.

-- Matthew Moshen

As you are likely aware, the blood that remains in the placenta and umbilical cord after the cord has been cut, "cord blood," has been proven to be a rich source of hematopoietic (blood producing) stem cells. Recently, bone marrow stem cells have been shown to possess the same types of properties that embryonic stem cells possess in terms of tissue regeneration.

Cord blood has now been used successfully in place of bone marrow stem cells to regenerate the blood and immunes system of over 1,500 patients. Doctors believe that because the stem cells in cord blood are immature and immunologically naive, they have advantages when used in medical treatment. On Nov. 7, 1999, Reuters carried a story announcing that Japanese researchers have discovered another type of stem cell in cord blood that had started to become endothelial cells -- the cells that line the insides of blood vessels. They called these cells "endothelial progenitor cells." These cells are believed to be the vehicle for heart patients of the future to "grow their own heart bypasses." In the laboratory, these cells showed the ability to effect a significant growth of capillaries and caused a "significant increase" in blood flow.

With all of the unknowns about umbilical cord blood, bone marrow and other cells that are potentially contained therein, we advocate the use of federal stem cell funding to be directed to investigation of umbilical cord blood and bone marrow cells. Ninety-nine percent of cord blood, and the cells within, are discarded every day in hospitals throughout the country. It may be that all the various "precursor" stem cells (hematopoietic stem cells, neural stem cells, muscle stem cells, etc.) are currently available in a resource that we throw in the trash every day. It has already proven itself to contain two different types of stem cells, why not more?

-- Stephen Grant
VP, Communications

-- Cord Blood Registry

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