Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Stem Cell Research

Well, here I thought I could take a break from blogging for a little bit, maybe put up a couple more of my old blogs from the Milwaukee Evolution League about the Grand Canyon, and focus on my upcoming finals. But no. One of my classmates in my Cell Biology course just had to go and piss me off, and now I'm venting here.

Her name is Maria Fernandez, and I have no qualms whatsoever about dropping that name, both because she deserves the infamy, and because latino culture still hasn't realized that if your name is the same as that of a million other people, you should probably change it so that you actually HAVE an identity! She e-mailed everybody in my class today -- something that would be impolite enough under nearly any circumstance. But why did she breech this etiquette? Because our class today covered stem cell research, and she thought she'd take it upon herself to tell us all how only adult stem cells have been able to treat or cure anything, and that no embryonic stem cell cures have been produced just yet. She reminded us about how the embryo has to be killed in order to obtain embryonic stem cells, and listed a bunch of "cures" obtained by using adult stem cells. She then included a couple of links to websites which supported this view.

Now, the more I think about this, the more steamed I get. Dr. Zhao is our professor, and this fellow student has the hubris to step into his role, going over his head, and telling us all what's what. The nerve!

But what's worse is, she promotes an unscientific view: that conception is the point at which the life of an individual being begins. This nonsense view is trumped again and again by the facts, but like a Cheerio in milk, it just won't sink. As I've pointed out in past blogs, it's the BRAIN that defines the being! The brain, the brain, the brain! How can that concept be so difficult for people to grasp?

The answer is that it can quite difficult, especially when scientists don't bother to point it out. They're too scared of pissing off the wrong senator and jeopardizing their research funding. So they go out of their way to stay out of the fight. Like Dr. Zhao did. He responded to this student's e-mail by thanking her for her views, and the interesting links! Now, I understand that scientists want to remain neutral, but isn't remaining neutral taking the side of pseudoscience by allowing it to flourish?

I suppose I should make this case again, for the benefit of those who haven't read my past blog posts. We all know what happens when sperm meets egg -- you get a zygote. But well after that point, that zygote may split to become TWO zygotes, as in the case of twins. And because of this, an individual being cannot have begun at the point of conception, because it's logically ruled out! On the other hand, as the Tracy Marciniak case pointed out, birth is not the place to draw the line either, because if a 8.5-month pregnant woman is punched in the stomach, and her baby dies, the assailant ought to be prosecuted for manslaughter, as we all can agree. So the line must be drawn at some point between these two extremes. That line can only be the formation of the brain. After all, every organ in your body can be replaced with a donor organ or a mechanical device, and you would still be essentially you. However, if your brain were to be removed, the rest of your body is simply meat. The BRAIN defines the being. Always has, always will. If you're alive, it means brain-alive, and when you're dead, it means brain-dead. A person can be brought back from clinical death -- where heartbeat and respiration have ceased -- solely because the brain has not died yet. That means we should draw the line either at 20 weeks (the point at which the cerebral cortex forms and movement of the fetus begins), or at 4.5 months (the point at which the cerebellum forms and higher brain function becomes possible). Either way, early-term abortion is a woman's inalienable right.

Thus, the only reason people have to insist that conception is the point at which we must draw the line, is religious indoctrination. And the bizarre twist to that, is that for the majority of Christian history, theologians and religious scholars regarded the point at which life begins to be long after conception. They felt it was at the point of "quickening," when a woman first felt her baby move inside her. It wasn't until the late 1700's when that changed, and the doctrine of "simultaneous animation" (the belief that the soul entered the body at conception) became popular. The Bible says nothing about the subject, and so it must be recognized that this "conception" doctrine is the word of Man, not the word of God.

So here comes this naive little girl in my class, presuming to spam us all with her misguided defense of blastocysts with neither brain nor soul. What a bitch!

Now, somebody might reasonably ask me: "Eric, isn't this personal?" For those who aren't aware, my mother is currently stricken with some form of vascular dementia, which has been causing her to rather rapidly wither away over the last two years -- something which might give any of us a new perspective on the stem-cell research debate! So my answer to that is, you damn straight it's personal! Yeah, I hope some breakthrough in stem cell research can save my mother! No form of stem cell research gives more bang for the buck than that of embryonic stem cells. It's the cheapest and most effective way of harvesting and using them. Adult stem cells, for all their purported benefits, are still too expensive and cumbersome. Most of the breakthroughs that have been made using adult stem cells came because scientists had no choice but to use the adult versions because of the heinous policies of the Bush administration. We lost roughly eight years of quality research because the science was slowed from a sprint to a crawl! And this recklessly headstrong little twat in my class decides to be a squeaky wheel for exactly that kind of evil bullshit!

Okay, it's personal. That doesn't mean I'm not right!

I sent a scathing e-mail in reply to Maria. Serves her right for spamming with a returnable address! But I also sent a very polite reply to Dr. Zhao, telling him that this e-mail was inappropriate, and that I hoped that religion and politics can remain outside the classroom, especially at the college level. (After all, we know how much I don't want religion in science class!) He immediately replied, and told me he has no intention of telling anyone what position to take on this issue. (I'm still waiting on Maria's reply.)

I understand his reasons. As I pointed out earlier, scientists don't want to rock the boat when it comes to their funding, so they go out of their way to be conciliatory to conservative views, even when they contradict the science. But the Freethought movement does not suffer from such constraints. Skeptics and Humanists are science-minded citizens who are usually not professional scientists. They can, and should, raise the hue and cry over this! Maybe then, this myth about conception (or, myth-conception?) will finally die out.


1 comment:

Clifford Pickard said...

Imagine for a moment if God forced Mary to have Jesus. Catholics glowing approve of her choice to do. They are simply anti-science and anti-choice when it is theologically and politically expedient to do so.