left biblioblography: STEMMING THE TIDE OF CELLS: OF PARTHENOGENESIS, PASSION PLAYS, AND PROMETHEUS

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

STEMMING THE TIDE OF CELLS: OF PARTHENOGENESIS, PASSION PLAYS, AND PROMETHEUS

A recent blogversation spurred me to investigate the stem cell controversy. A dizzying array of terminology makes it difficult to cut to the source: androgenates and parthenogenates, and the invocation of Frankenstein’s monster (shambling genetic wreckages swirled up from scratch by some goggle-clad mad scientist rubbing his hands together in glee).

Well, I think I can outline two of the main objections from the religious side of the fracas:

  1. In order to ‘harvest’ these cells, it destroys the embryo.

  2. It cuts to the heart of one of their most cherished miracles: the Virgin Birth (AKA the Immaculate Deception).
For number one, I personally feel that an embryo doesn’t qualify as a person, especially in the early stages. Most cultures (including the Judaic one) don’t consider the embryo a person until the crown emerges from the woman.

For number two, I of course consider the virgin birth another myth among many.

The dictionary defines parthenogenesis as:

A form of reproduction in which an unfertilized egg develops into a new individual, occurring commonly among insects and certain other arthropods.

And the root of the word derives from [New Latin: Greek parthenos, virgin + GENESIS.]
Virgin birth, wouldn’t you know it.

So here we have humanity on the verge of not only replicating a supernatural (and unprovable) event, but fearful visions of mass factories devoted entirely to destroying embryos developed in a manner of a ‘blessed miracle’.  The science fiction and fantasy writers have had a field day with this premise (and well they should: it’s a veritable goldmine of ideas and concepts).

But there’s hope:http://www.cell-stem.com/ -

“Stem Cells From Menstrual Blood
Japanese researchers have harvested stem cells from human menstrual blood, a medical conference has heard. The researchers say these stem cells could be coaxed into forming specialised heart cells, which might one-day be used to treat failing or damaged hearts. At the meeting of the American College of Cardiology, Dr Shunichiro Miyoshi reported that he and his colleagues at Keio University in Tokyo collected menstrual blood from six women and harvested stem cells that originated in the lining of the uterus. They were able to obtain about 30 times more stem cells from menstrual blood than from bone marrow, Miyoshi says. The stem cells were then cultured in a way to induce them to become heart cells. After five days about half of the cells contracted "spontaneously, rhythmical and synchronously, suggesting the presence of electrical communication" between the cells, Miyoshi says. That is to say, they behaved like heart cells. The researcher explains that already stem cells derived from bone marrow have improved heart function, mainly by producing new blood vessels rather than new heart-muscle tissue. He emphasises that it is important that these cells be obtained from younger patients, because they would have a longer lifespan than cells harvested from older donors.”

I wonder how long it is before the Religious Right jumps on this one? Fingers crossed: maybe they’ll go for it.

Maybe not:
Leviticus 15 -
“19 When a woman has her menstrual flow, she shall be in a state of impurity for seven days. Anyone who touches her shall be unclean until evening.
20 Anything on which she lies or sits during her impurity shall be unclean.
21 Anyone who touches her bed shall wash his garments, bathe in water, and be unclean until evening.
22 Whoever touches any article of furniture on which she was sitting, shall wash his garments, bathe in water, and be unclean until evening.
23 But if she is on the bed or on the seat when he touches it, he shall be unclean until evening.”

Let’s hope calmer heads prevail.

Till the next post, then.

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21 comments:

Beowulf said...

“Well, I think I can outline two of the main objections from the religious side of the fracas:

1. In order to ‘harvest’ these cells, it destroys the embryo.

2. It cuts to the heart of one of their most cherished miracles: the Virgin Birth (AKA the Immaculate Deception).”


Point one: yes; but two……no. The thought never even crossed my mind. And after thinking about it, I don’t see the dilemma. Maybe someone else can raise the objection and defend it.

Secondly, I don’t think you’ll have to worry about Leviticus from most (guesstimating 97%) Christians (AKA the religious side of the fracas). Perhaps Jews & Muslims, not sure.

say no to christ said...

Ra

Thanks for the stem cell update. I know this might sound a little gross to some guys, but menstual blood is very high in nutrience and is THE BEST fertilizer. In ancient times women used their menstual blood for just about everything including religious ceremonies. There are some indications that men drank menstual blood to assure fertility. Ok I'm done grossing you guys out. lol I will die laughing if the christian right start up with the Leviticus bull shit! Now I have to do some google search on this matter. Have a good day. :)

Amy

say no to christ said...

Ra

this is a little off the topic but I thought you would be interested in this for a new debate. Its about the new HVP vaccine that christians want banned cuz they say it will give young women the go ahead to be sluts.

http://www.newscientist.com/channel/sex/mg18624954.500

Krystalline Apostate said...

SNTC:
Thanks for the stem cell update. I know this might sound a little gross to some guys
Yeah it is...Ewwww! But thanks for the info, nonetheless.
Its about the new HVP vaccine that christians want banned cuz they say it will give young women the go ahead to be sluts.
Hey, that IS interesting. Thanks.

karen said...

Good to know that something so good can come from menstual blood. It would be cool if clinics were set up where one could go to have it all vacuumed out at the beginning of a period. I'm glad I'm done with that mess.

Mesoforte said...

In order to ‘harvest’ these cells, it destroys the embryo.

You don't have to get them from the embryo itself, (from what my medical mom once said) you can get them from adults and I think they're present just after birth somewhere in the birthing area. And of course, we could learn to replicate stem cells synthetically.

Krystalline Apostate said...

MF:
You don't have to get them from the embryo itself, (from what my medical mom once said) you can get them from adults and I think they're present just after birth somewhere in the birthing area.
Actually, those are known as 'adult' stem cells, you get them from the umbilicial cord or the placenta. The catch is that they're nowhere near as potent as the embryonic 1s.

GooseHenry said...

RA

Agreeing with Bf:

Point 1) correct. Not right to kill something which is human and alive.

Point 2) - i don't see the connection

Krystalline Apostate said...

Goose:
Well, I don't think stem cells are human. No more so than say, a hair follicle.

Well, point 2 is moot - guess my catholic upbringing is showing. ;)

spanders said...

goose, isn't cancer human and alive?

Krystalline Apostate said...

spanders! Cool! Pleased to see ya (in a matter of speaking). Was hoping you'd drop by.

GooseHenry said...

Spanders

Since i gather you are a moral relativist i can understand that there objectively is no difference between a tumour and a fetus.

Krystalline Apostate said...

Goose:
Since i gather you are a moral relativist i can understand that there objectively is no difference between a tumour and a fetus.
Mixing & matching terms again?

The dictionary defines a FETUS as:
" 1. The unborn young of a viviparous vertebrate having a basic structural resemblance to the adult animal.
2. In humans, the unborn young from the end of the eighth week after conception to the moment of birth, as distinguished from the earlier embryo."

Whereas an EMBRYO is:

"1.
A. An organism in its early stages of development, especially before it has reached a distinctively recognizable form.
B. An organism at any time before full development, birth, or hatching.

2.
A. The fertilized egg of a vertebrate animal following cleavage.
B. In humans, the prefetal product of conception from implantation through the eighth week of development."

Do please stay on topic.

GooseHenry said...

RA

"Do please stay on topic."

I am. Embryo then, forgive me so much for using the wrong term. Point is that i can see why your side could see an embryo as a tumour which should be removed.

Human and alive. That is all i need to oppose abortion.

Krystalline Apostate said...

Goose:
I am. Embryo then, forgive me so much for using the wrong term.
I figured you did. That's why I didn't whack you over it.
Point is that i can see why your side could see an embryo as a tumour which should be removed.
That was an analogy only. The point being, both are alive, both contain DNA, neither resemble a human being.
Human and alive. That is all i need to oppose abortion.
You know my stance on that. But this isn't about abortion.

Here's some interesting reading:
http://boren.nu/archives/2001/12/06/dont-impede-medical-progress/
(snip)
"The first [argument for banning therapeutic cloning] is that a fertilized egg is a person, entitled to full human rights. Taking stem cells out of a blastocyst is, in this view, no different from cutting the heart out of a baby. Hence, we hear fears of “embryo farming” for “spare parts.”

This view treats microscopic cells with no past or present consciousness, no organs or tissues, as people. A vocal minority of Americans, of course, do find compelling the argument that a fertilized egg is someone who deserves protection from harm. That view animates the anti-abortion movement and exercises considerable influence in Republican politics.

But most Americans don’t believe we should sacrifice the lives and well being of actual people to save cells. Human identity must rest on something more compelling than the right string of proteins in a petri dish, detectable only with high-tech equipment. We will never get a moral consensus that a single cell, or a clump of 100 cells, is a human being. That definition defies moral sense, rational argument, and several major religious traditions."(end snip)

The stem cell controversy would most likely have not occurred, a century ago. Why? Personhood was (& should still be) measured by specific criterion:
1. It looks like a duck,
2. It quacks like a duck,
3. It walks like a duck, etc.

When it begins to resemble a person, is when this should go into effect.

It's very recent, that anyone accorded human rights to a lump of cells.

So I think spanders' analogy stands pretty well.

GooseHenry said...

RA

A tumour is a cellular defect, potentially lethal if left alone.

An embryo does not have these properties. In time, it will develop into a child.

Krystalline Apostate said...

Goose:
A tumour is a cellular defect, potentially lethal if left alone.
Depends if it's malign or benign.
An embryo does not have these properties. In time, it will develop into a child.
I think the example illustrates the concept of intrinisic value. At what point does it acquire that value?

Since I don't believe in a soul, I say it has none up until it at least has some resemblance to humanity.

Besides which, of 40,000 embryos existant, only 128 have been adopted. They have a limited shelf life, as I understand it.
At some point, some of them are going to be tossed out.
I think the waste of potential here is a key issue.
If everyone was stepping up to adopt these embryos, then perhaps we could look elsewhere.

Spanders said...

Man, I've been busy... sorry about not getting back to you. I think it would be prudent to define what a moral relativist is. In the pajorative, it could be described as some as someone who changes morality to suit their needs. My definition would be to understand morality in the context of our time. To assert that I'm a moral relativist isn't absolutely off the mark, but I would consider it to be that I have an understanding that morals are different now than, let's say, during the time of slavery or even during Puritan times at the onset of the country when women were considered little more than property. Morality changes. I like to think that that's what you meant, but somehow I think you meant more in the pejorative simply because I don't agree with your interpretation of the Bible and how it relates to our pluralistic democracy and national policy.

Onto the key point... I don't see a fetus as the same as a tumor other than that they are both human and both are alive. I think your second point that cancer can be deadly... actually, so can child birth. Before modern medicine, one in five women died from child birth. It's not necessarily good for women to give birth from a health point of view. I don't think your argument holds up there.

Further, I have detailed discussion with JCC on the nogodblog discussion the difference between life and being a person. To discard a zygote, to abort a fetus is not the same as murder. The Bible is unclear at best about when it is that a fetus becomes a person. It's that key point that I would say we have different interpretations. You cannot argue that the Bible has clear instruction here. You could look at "you shall not murder" (or ratshad, as it is in Hebrew, which is to kill in a predatory way). Exodus even has an account of two men fighting and killing a fetus, which results in a fine, not the punishment for murder. Ratshad is not used in that text.

We parse the meaning of these texts and I don't think I lay judgement on you if you interpret differently than I do, but I think it's highly unfair for you to say you have the absolute true interpretation and that you know the will of god more than I do. Somehow you are a moral absolutist while I lack any kind of foundation? Untrue. I have thoroughly researched my position. I understand what I believe and have turned it over many times before coming to a conclusion. You have an opinion just like I have an opinion. A fetus is a potential person, but not a person. To have an abortion is not murder. This is my interpretation. I can give you the long version if you want it. The point is that you cannot absolutely defend your position and neither can I. We both have opinions.

Krystalline Apostate said...

spanders:
Very eloquent.
Goose IS going to want the long version, remember?

GooseHenry said...

Spanders

With moral relativist i meant someone who thinks morals are relative to society etc. like you mention. I haven't brought up scripture yet in this discussion.

Regarding child birth, your argument seems to be the following

1) Embryos/fetuses can, like cancer, be removed if there is a health risk
2) From a health point of view, it there is always risk involved in giving birth
C) therefore killing the embryo can be considered in all cases

i wholeheartedly disagree. I think life begins at conception and from there on it is precious and unique

that is why i BELIEVE i am right when i say it is a sin to kill the embryo.

Krystalline Apostate said...

Goose:
i wholeheartedly disagree. I think life begins at conception and from there on it is precious and unique
There's some faulty reasoning underlying that, I think.
A. As I've pointed out before, the concept of 'life begins at conception' is a VERY recent innovation. There's no evidence to support that conclusion.
B. I think perhaps that you believe that the embryo is imbued w/a soul at conception? You have no evidence that such a thing exists. (NOTE: burden of proof is on the believer)
C. The fact that you believe in sin & soul is based on the bible, ergo, it's nigh impossible to have this discussion w/o some mention of your epistomology.
D. I think you're using too broad of a brush when you say "i wholeheartedly disagree.", when a woman's life is threatened by the carrying of embryo and/or fetus.

& while we can quibble over the metaphysical side of the argument, what's to be done w/those embryos that will be slated for disposal, when the shelf life runs out? Who gets to adopt them? Who steps up to bat? There's 40,000 of them.

I'd suggest you adopt at least 1 of them, before the expiration date.