SOCIETY: by Dr Wanda FranzNews Weekly
How biotechnology affects the family
, May 15, 2010
The primary function of the family is to produce and raise children. Modern science has found a way to produce children in the laboratory.
When you take reproduction out of the natural family unit, you change the way the resultant child is viewed. It changes from being a child and an individual person to being a product of technology. Furthermore, if you can produce it in the laboratory, you feel free to manipulate it and experiment on it.
The average scientist doesn't see a child in the collection of cells in the petri dish and is lulled into thinking that this member of the human family does not have the status of a human person with the right to life.
However, an educated person knows - or should know - that the zygote is a new, absolutely unique human being in its earliest stages of development. That is why scientists want to experiment on it.
One of the biggest challenges to the family in the 21st century is to protect its youngest members and ensure that all of us retain our rights as human persons. If we lose our rights at the beginning of life, how can we get them back when we are older?
To understand the threat of scientific research on stem cells and the use of cloning, we must look at the scientific facts about the beginning of life. When the male sperm enters the female egg in the fallopian tube of the mother, a new and distinct individual is formed with its own unique set of chromosomes. This new person is called a zygote.
The new single cell divides producing two daughter cells that have exactly the same genetic make-up as the mother cell. The cell divides into 2-, then 4- and then 8-cell stages. This takes about two-and-a-half days.
During this time if, for some reason, this cell cluster gets separated into two sub-clusters, identical twins will form. If one of the cells gets separated from the rest, it can develop into a complete human body. These cells are called embryonic stem cells. They can become any kind of body cell. Because of that, they are called totipotent embryonic stem cells.
Now you can see why researchers want to get a hold of them.
After four days, the tiny human has grown to several hundred cells and acquired a new name. He is now called a blastocyst. After six days the blastocyst begins to implant itself into the inner wall of the uterus. The inner cell mass of the blastocyst is made up of pluripotent embryonic stem cells.
Now we come to the crucial aspect of the public policy debate on embryonic stem cells. The biotech industry and researchers who do not respect human life in the embryonic state want to "harvest" embryonic stem cells from humans in the blastocyst stage.
Why? Because the embryonic stem cells from the inner cell mass of the blastocyst can either grow into new stem cells or develop into any tissue, except the placenta. These are extremely powerful cells.
Scientists rightfully say that embryonic stem cells are maximally "pluripotent" because they can develop into every tissue of the human body. Therefore, these scientists want to study these cells and exploit their capabilities. And the biotech industry sees the possibility of patents and huge profits arising from stem-cell research.
The fundamental problem with this is, of course, the fact that "harvesting" embryonic stem cells from a human blastocyst kills a human being at the embryonic stage. As the embryo grows, the stem cells become more specialised and less "pluripotent".
After birth, stem cells continue to be present in the umbilical-cord blood and in the growing body itself - right through the rest of the life span. They are often, somewhat inaccurately, referred to as "adult stem cells". These cells are "pluripotent" and "multipotent" to varying degrees. They serve tissue renewal and repair.
Scientists used to think that adult stem cells were very specialised. Now, there is mounting evidence that adult stem cells from one kind of tissue can be made to differentiate into cells of another kind of tissue. There are currently over 100 different therapies being used to help people using their own bodies' stem cells.
In addition there is a new method of creating stem cells that does not kill a human embryo. So-called "induced pluripotent stem cells", or "iPSCs", are derived from ordinary somatic cells. A skin cell, for example, can be chemically "re-programmed" into the stem-cell state.
Currently, there are thousands of frozen embryos left over from in vitro fertilisation, created by artificial fertilisation in a glass dish. Handing over leftover embryos to researchers so that they may harvest their stem cells is tantamount to killing them. That is why pro-lifers oppose it. In addition, these embryos are foreign tissue in the recipient's body and trigger the rejection reaction.
Instead, the researchers want to clone an identical twin of the patient and then take that twin's stem cells while he is still in the embryonic state and implant them into the patient. This way they hope to repair diseased tissue and heal the patient, as there would be no rejection problem. However tumours could still occur. The patient may live, but the twin must die. The medical problem may be solved, but the moral problem remains.
What will be the impact if we continue down this path of human destruction? The push for embryonic stem-cell research leads to the attitude of making objects out of children in the research laboratory.
The push for embryonic stem-cell research has the potential to lead to a weakening of our respect for life at its beginning and for undermining the normal human family.Dr Wanda Franz is a child psychologist and president of the US National Right to Life Committee. The above article is the text of a speech she delivered to the World Congress of Families in Amsterdam last year.