Embryonic Souls on Ice or Stem Cells without Tears?

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Advanced Cell Technology is reporting that its researchers have successfully derived stem cells from donated embryos without destroying them. Basically, ACT takes a single cell from an eight-cell embryo and then grow it into a stem cell colony. Evidently this technique aims to meet the Bush Administration's requirement that federal funding go only to research using stem cell lines derived from embryos which were destroyed before August 10, 2001.

According to the Washington Post, the creative, but frustrated, ACT researchers have likely not crossed the Bush Administration hurdle. Why? As Story Landis, head of National Institutes of Health Stem Cell Task Force explains, the only way to prove that the embryos have not been harmed is by implanting them in the wombs of some women to see if they develop into babies. Of course, these are embryos left over from fertility treatments so there's not much chance of that. On the other hand, lots of eight-cell embryos that have been checked for genetic flaws using the same technique are now babies.

http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v410/n6829/images/410620aa.0.jpg

In any case, one has to wonder if keeping the embryos on ice forever counts as "not destroying" them? Do theologians puzzle over where their embryonic souls hang out while waiting in a vat of liquid nitrogen to see if they ever get implanted?And besides, why should we be overly fastidious about the survival of 5 day-old embryos since nature and its putative Creator do not seem to be?

The really good news is that the Japanese research team that figured out how to turn skin cells into cells that seem to act like stem cells believes that therapies using them might come online in the next ten years.

Whole Washington Post article on the new research here.

NEXT: Little Boxes

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  1. Do theologians puzzle over where their embryonic souls hang out while waiting in a vat of liquid nitrogen to see if they ever get implanted?

    Worst of all, they are hermaphrodite souls…

  2. I can’t wait until these crazy stem cell regulations are gone and we can get back to finding ways to help sick and suffering people.

  3. Wired wrote about something similar in 2005. Worth a click just to see the teeth in the tumor.

    http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/13.06/stemcells.html

  4. Do theologians puzzle over where their embryonic souls hang out while waiting in a vat of liquid nitrogen to see if they ever get implanted?

    I’ve always wondered about this

  5. I thought libertarians were pretty much on board with Ron Paul’s (and in general most conservatives) belief in the sacred embryo?

    Well, actually I don’t believe that. I just don’t understand how one can reconcile this POV with laws saying women are not fit to make their own medical decisions in the presence of the sacred embryos.

    As far as I can make out the current position over here, is that a man is immune from repercussions of tampering with the sacred embryos, but a woman, especially if she possesses a sacred embryo, is not so endowed.

    (Libertarian opposition to the notion that women are fit to make their own medical decisions in the presence of magic embryo’s, is definitely one of the points which caused me to stop identifying as a libertarian publicly a few years ago, although I do know a number of higher ups in the LP agree with me, especially in reference to the Paul campaign)

  6. Do theologians puzzle over where their embryonic souls hang out while waiting in a vat of liquid nitrogen to see if they ever get implanted?

    I’m prohibited from an opinion on this, so I’ll ask the experts at H&R. When does a zygote/embryo/fetus get ensouled? Also, why doesn’t anybody light candles for all of the zygotes/embryos that end up tossed away attached to a used tampon?

    The second question is admittedly snarky.

  7. why should we be overly fastidious about the survival of 5 day-old embryos since nature and its putative Creator do not seem to be?

    When it rains, it’s God crying. Because of something you did.

  8. Lawrence: There is no “libertarian line” on the status of embryos. I assume that Ron Paul has religious beliefs that tell him that embryos are people and therefore require protection. On the other hand had you been reading Reason you would have long ago come across moral and scientific arguments explaining why embryos are not people. For example, see a 2001 column which asks “Are Stem Cells Babies?

  9. I thought libertarians were pretty much on board with Ron Paul’s (and in general most conservatives) belief in the sacred embryo?

    FUCK NO!!!!!

    That is reason 104,561,779 not to vote for RP. (and gays should be able to marry, and it doesn’t matter if the oppression is coming from the fed or the state, it’s still oppression).

    When does a zygote/embryo/fetus get ensouled?
    birth is the magical moment. also when metabolic independence is achieved. 🙂

  10. I’m voting for Hillary cuz she’s a libertarian wet dream and she supports subsidized Stem Cell Research!

    Get Down!

  11. “why should we be overly fastidious about the survival of 5 day-old embryos since nature and its putative Creator do not seem to be? ”

    Would that not also apply to the survival of all things? Or do you know of some creature nature has spared?

  12. Let me preface this by saying that since it seems probable that the embryos are not harmed by this technique, I’m all for research of this type. My concern is not with ESCR per se, but with destroying innocent human life.

    Do theologians puzzle over where their embryonic souls hang out while waiting in a vat of liquid nitrogen to see if they ever get implanted?

    They’re not physical objects, so they don’t have a physical location. This isn’t any more of a problem for embryos than it is for adults…after all, do we know “where” our own souls are?

    And besides, why should we be overly fastidious about the survival of 5 day-old embryos since nature and its putative Creator do not seem to be?

    Seriously, we’ve been down this road before. Just because people die naturally does not mean it’s OK to kill them. Since millions of African kids die each year of treatable illnesses, does that mean it would be OK to go over there and kill millions of them directly? After all, “nature” doesn’t seem to care otherwise.

  13. Or do you know of some creature nature has spared?

    *Deep Breath*

    DONDEROOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!

  14. “Seriously, we’ve been down this road before. Just because people die naturally does not mean it’s OK to kill them. Since millions of African kids die each year of treatable illnesses, does that mean it would be OK to go over there and kill millions of them directly? After all, “nature” doesn’t seem to care otherwise.”

    No shit. Why does this even need to be pointed out?

  15. Lawrence:

    actually – get a soul after dance lessons
    *rimshot*

  16. On the other hand had you been reading Reason you would have long ago come across moral and scientific arguments explaining why embryos are not people. For example, see a 2001 column which asks “Are Stem Cells Babies?”

    Of course, it helps if you either (a) already agree that embryos are not persons, or (b) are a complete idiot. I and several other posters skewered Bailey’s facile arguments in the comment thread of the article he links to.

    For instance, Bailey argues that since we don’t mourn embryos lost before implantation, they must not be people. But right now there are many, many kids in third-world countries who are dying gruesome, painful deaths. I guarantee I won’t mourn any of them, since I’m not really aware of their presence. Does that mean they’re not persons?

  17. kohlrabi,

    I used to ask that question. By now I’ve seen enough of Ron Bailey’s MO to know that no argument is too stupid to use if it backs up his position on an issue. The sad thing is, since he keeps referring to his stultifyingly dumb arguments from before, I don’t think he even realizes how stupid they are.

  18. Just as the Vatican gets rid of Limbo, science creates it…

  19. crimethink,

    I used to think joe was being unfair to Ron. Not so much anymore.

    *pauses to drink*

    For a magazine called ‘reason’…

  20. “religious beliefs that tell him that embryos are people”

    omelet-americans?

  21. When does a zygote/embryo/fetus get ensouled?

    I don’t know about ensoulment, but quickening used by the dividing line between life / not-life.

    I couldn’t document this, but I assume that back in the day, if woman was quick with child, that child had been ensouled. Whereas prior to quickening it had not yet been ensouled.

  22. I’m confused. the belief that an embryo is a person seems to be predicated on the belief in the existence of a soul (a religious belief backed up by absolutely no evidence). How is anyone able to claim that the counter-argument is stupid? it’s a matter of faith.

  23. omelet-americans?

    wow

  24. quickening embiggens the meekest.

  25. When does a zygote/embryo/fetus get ensouled?

    As with any question about souls, it’s essentially a religious one. Catholics believe this happens immediately upon conception (notwithstanding the oft-quoted speculations of St Thomas Aquinas, who was working with 12th-century biology, and could not have known anything about how conception actually occurs).

    Also, why doesn’t anybody light candles for all of the zygotes/embryos that end up tossed away attached to a used tampon?

    They do.

  26. I would add to my first statement above that the question of ensoulment is quite irrelevant to the question of at what point the existence of a human person begins, which can be dealt with in non-religious terms.

  27. So, for those who believe that life begins at conception…
    should a woman who has a miscarriage while drinking or smoking during pregnancy (which increases the incidence of miscarriages) be charged with manslaughter, or some similar crime?

  28. Pinette,

    That would mean atheists and others who don’t believe souls exist at all would also have to believe no one was really a person, which would be pretty silly. Personhood and ensoulment are completely different concepts.

  29. Point taken, but i see a living, breathing baby and i know they are a person. from a non-religious standpoint, I have trouble viewing a group of eight cells as a person.

  30. When does a zygote/embryo/fetus get ensouled?

    Simple.

    Make sure you have a sufficiently large one in your inventory, then cast a Soultrap spell on a creature, kill it, and… Voil

  31. Pinette,

    That is understandable, and explains why people react very differently to, say, the death of an already-born baby and a late term miscarriage. We all have a kind of prejudice against the unborn ingrained in our senses.

    It’s also why, contrary to the prevailing conventional wisdom, pro-choice dogma is much easier to sell on an emotional level than pro-life positions; the former sides with a visible adult woman, for whom giving birth means a great deal of suffering, while the latter must side with the right to life of a nondescript lump which could easily be mistaken for a blood clot.

  32. Crimethink: Just as I’ve suspected, the existence of death means that nature’s putative Creator isn’t overly fastidious about individual human survival. However, unlike nature and its putative creator we are fastidious about the deaths of individual people, which is why we do mourn their deaths. The fact that we don’t mourn dead embryos indicates that most of us do not regard them as people. Obviously this is not a dispositive argument–if there were dispositive arguments we wouldn’t be having THIS discussion. But as you know, I have approached this subject from any other angles.

  33. That would be “many other angles.” Grrr.

  34. should a woman who has a miscarriage while drinking or smoking during pregnancy (which increases the incidence of miscarriages) be charged with manslaughter, or some similar crime?

    No, silly. You charge the alcohol and tobacco industries because that’s where the money is.

  35. crimethink,
    I can identify with a late-term fetus since i can imagine it’s little arms. and i can sympathize with someone who thinks even the bundle of cells is a person, though i don’t agree. I think the law should set a definitive point in pregnancy where we give full rights to the fetus, and i don’t think it should be conception. when people believe different things, and there are valid arguments for both sides. compromise must be made.

  36. Crimethink: Are there persons without souls?

  37. I am pro-life, but I’m not a blind absolutist. Asserting that an unimplanted eight cell embryo is a person is as pigheaded as asserting that a fetus one second before birth is not.

  38. Ron Bailey,

    That’s a religious question, so it’s quite irrelevant to this topic. An atheist or a Buddhist would say there are persons without souls, so I’m perfectly comfortable dealing with just persons without worrying about souls.

  39. Exactly.
    but where is the cutoff? at what point do we decide that the thing deserves the same rights as all humans?
    i don’t know the answer

  40. Make sure you have a sufficiently large one in your inventory, then cast a Soultrap spell on a creature, kill it, and… Voil?!

    Taktix?,

    And if you have the Star of Azura you can use it over and over again. Did you know that you can soultrap creatures you’ve summoned yourself?

  41. The fact that we don’t mourn dead embryos indicates that most of us do not regard them as people.

    Or, it could indicate that we aren’t aware of that individual embryo’s existence, which is nearly always going to be the case. I don’t regard a human being on the other side of an opaque soundproof wall as being a person either, but it’s mainly because I don’t even know of his existence.

  42. Crimethink,
    what about the embryos we do know about? this argument is based on the fact that we know of their existence. they are in a lab, being studied under a microscope.

  43. de stijl,

    Best Elder Scrlls tip that actually translates to the real world:

    People like you less if you’re diseased…

  44. Pinette | January 11, 2008, 2:10pm | #
    crimethink,
    I can identify with a late-term fetus since i can imagine it’s little arms. and i can sympathize with someone who thinks even the bundle of cells is a person, though i don’t agree. I think the law should set a definitive point in pregnancy where we give full rights to the fetus, and i don’t think it should be conception. when people believe different things, and there are valid arguments for both sides. compromise must be made.

    The law does define a point in which some rights are decreed: birth (when physical independence occurs). But in no way do we give FULL rights to babies or children. There are socially-determined stages of independence and those stages coincide with increased legal rights.

    I don’t see a need for compromise here. This process makes sense and protects the rights of the individual along with having social benefits.

  45. Also, why doesn’t anybody light candles for all of the zygotes/embryos that end up tossed away attached to a used tampon?

    They do.

    I doubt that unimplanted embryos are regaeded as miscarriages. The woman is completely unaware that such even existed.

    That said, what a weird site. It takes all kinds.

  46. So, for those who believe that life begins at conception…

    … believe that birth control pills are murder. Yes, they do.

  47. I think the law should set a definitive point in pregnancy where we give full rights to the fetus, and i don’t think it should be conception.

    And it shouldn’t be birth either. Pro-lifers and pro-choicers despise me.

  48. I think “personhood” probably begins with consciousness and self-awareness. From my experience as the father of four, I’d place that about three months after birth. But to be on the safe side, I’d be willing to push the regs against baby-killing back about six months from that point. That puts us at, what, the end of the second trimester?

  49. People like you less if you’re diseased…

    I really wish “Merchants who like you will offer you better deals” were true in retail.

  50. I haven’t read any of the comments so far, but just after reading the article i feel i should note, that wanting to preserve and protect life(and i’m honestly not trying to get into an abortion type debate here) doesn’t hinge on “ensoulment”, or theologians, or even belief in a creator. To me, like most areas of bioethics, it’s about maintaining a certain respect and dignity as a self-aware and conscientious species.

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