Is Every Skin Cell Sacred?

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In Monty Python's 1983 movie, The Meaning Of Life, appears the hilarious musicial number, "Every Sperm is Sacred." (If your office door is closed, treat yourself to the video of it here.) In the words of the song's refrain:

Every sperm is sacred.
Every sperm is great.
If a sperm is wasted,
God gets quite irate.

Does the song need an update? Researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles report that they have been able to turn skin cells into sperm and eggs. As the UCLA press explains:

…researchers have reprogrammed human induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells into the cells that eventually become eggs and sperm, possibly opening the door for new treatments for infertility using patient-specific cells.

The iPS cells were coaxed into forming germ line precursor cells which include genetic material that may be passed on to a child. The study appears today in the early online edition of the peer-reviewed journal Stem Cells.

"This finding could be important for people who are rendered infertile through disease or injury. We may, one day, be able to replace the germ cells that are lost," said Amander Clark, a Broad Stem Cell Research Center scientist and senior author of the study. "And these germ cells would be specific and genetically related to that patient."

Theoretically, an infertile patient's skin cells, for example, could be taken and reprogrammed into iPS cells, which, like embryonic stem cells, have the ability to become every cell type in the human body. Those cells could then be transformed into germ line precursor cells that would eventually become eggs and sperm. Clark cautioned, however, that scientists are still many years from using these cells in patients to treat infertility. There is still much to be learned about the process of making high quality germ cells in the lab.

Of course, Monty Python is spoofing Roman Catholic doctrine. Nevertheless, the Vatican holds that the release of sperm outside of the "procreative act" is morally suspect. Or as the Catechism notes:

"Both the Magisterium of the Church, in the course of a constant tradition, and the moral sense of the faithful have been in no doubt and have firmly maintained that masturbation is an intrinsically and gravely disordered action."

In any case, it's pretty clear that even if it becomes possible to safely produce embryos from healthy human sperm and eggs derived from a person's skin cells, that would violate the prohibitions set out in the Vatican's newest bioethics instruction, Dignitas Personae.

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  1. Wow, all the Catholic references…This post just hung a big sign out front saying: MAD MAX, PLEASE REPORT FOR DUTY.

    Wait for it….

  2. Does the song need an update?

    Does this post need and update? The HTML looks a little shaky.

    n00b…

  3. Hey! I thought we couldn’t do stuff like this without using embryonic stem cells?

  4. In any case, it’s pretty clear that … would violate the prohibitions set out in the Vatican’s newest bioethics instruction, Dignitas Personae.

    So what?

  5. Favorite old joke:

    There two kinds of liars: the men who say they’ve never masturbated and those who say they’ve stopped.

  6. Egghead: How do you think the researchers learned what genetic switches to turn off and on to produce iPS cells? And as the UCLA press release further notes:

    “In another important finding, Clark’s team discovered that the germ line cells generated from human iPS cells were not the same as the germ line cells derived from human embryonic stem cells. Certain vital regulatory processes were not performed correctly in the human iPS derived germ cells, said Clark, an assistant professor of molecular, cell and developmental biology.

    So it’s crucial, Clark contends, that work continue on the more controversial human embryonic stem cells that come from donated, excess material from in vitro fertilization that would otherwise be destroyed.”

    But let’s hope that eventually embryonic stem cells become superfluous because (1) they are difficult to make and (2) it would avoid unendingly fruitless debates over their moral status.

  7. The HTML looks a little shaky. n00b…

    It means Black Flag is singing the song.

    NERD!

  8. “The Papacy is nothing other than the ghost of the deceased Roman Empire, sitting crowned upon the grave thereof.” – Thomas Hobbes

  9. Who’s going to do an Updike post?

  10. Apologies, I mean to post that in another thread.

    Concerning this post, I don’t fucking care what the Vatican has to say about anything.

  11. In other news, members of the Heaven’s Gate religion (2nd Edition) confirm that Roswell, New Mexico is a holy site and that all those who attempt to reside there are morally corrupt.

  12. “The Empire never ended.”

    -Philip K. Dick

  13. I don’t fucking care what the Vatican has to say about anything.

    I don’t fucking care much for what the assclowns in the Vatican have to say, but I do care. Much the same way I don’t care much for what the assclowns on capitol hill say. But people listen to them, and as a result they can affect my life.

  14. If your office door is closed, treat yourself to the video

    What is this “office door” you speak of?

  15. Radley,

    Masturbation is an intrinsically and gravely disordered action not just because sperm is released. It’s equally disordered for women to masturbate and they don’t release sperm in doing so.

    The problem with sperm from skin cells research, from a Catholic perspective, is that it further separates the sex act from its eudamonistic elements of being unitive and procreative. Masturbation also separates the sex act from the unitive and procreative ends intrinsic to it, and therefore would also be wrong. However, it’s achieving the same wrong through a different means and for a different ends, and so the two are not morally equivalent.

  16. I feel so dirty.

  17. I meant to call you Ron, not Radley. sorry. It’s not like you two guys even look alike.

  18. One of the drones in sector 7-G,

    Homer has a door.

  19. I knew a girl who got the clap from jumping on a pogo stick while in her bathing suit….and she was Catholic!!!

    *note: This comment welcomes other strawmen for Bailey to knock down

  20. “It’s equally disordered for women to masturbate and they don’t release sperm in doing so.”

    Well they’re releasing something…

  21. Let me try this and see if it works:

    GodlessAtheists &8745; PeopleWhoCantFigureThingsOut &8745; PeopleWhoDrinkCopperTinctures &8745; FansOfRushTheCanadianBand = the libertarian coalition.

  22. It’s only disordered if you’re doing it wrong 😉

  23. Oh well. The “&8745;” bit above is the upside-down U meaning “set intersection”.

  24. Also, everyone make sure and subscribe to Reason’s new twitter channel:

    twitter.com/AntiPapistsAndOthersForLibertarianismAndObama

  25. No, it isn’t. You left out the # sign after the ampersand.

  26. I guess only a godless athiest bastard would believe in self-ownership and limited government…

  27. I do wonder what’s going to happen if someone grows 100 copies of himself for spare parts.

    Currently, there’s a generally agreed principle that exit from the womb confers personhood. But what if we’re growing people in artifical wombs. in which they could remain indefinitely?

    If you grow a copy without a brain to maturity and keep it on life support, is that OK?

  28. You mean this ? LoneTwit?

  29. Tyler,

    I’ll have you know that my parents were married, thank you very much.

  30. SugarFree,

    You should mention that they were married to each other, to fend off the inevitable rebuttal.

  31. One of the drones in sector 7-G

    Must be Lenny or Carl, as SugarFree aptly noted.

  32. Is it incest if you screw yourself to create your twin?

  33. Thank you, ProLib.

    And I’m not even the product of a shotgun wedding. They were married to each other for four years before the universe blessed them with my radiant presence.

  34. “If you grow a copy without a brain to maturity and keep it on life support, is that OK?”

    Yes. It’s called a Weigel.

  35. Abdul,

    Why is masturbation gravely disordered? Is that more severe than regularly disordered?

    Why would I have a hand if not to handle things? A mouth is used for eating and breathing but also can be used for kissing even though that serves only a purpose of pleasure, rather than a functional one. What about hugging? There’s really no need for it, other than it makes people feel good. Or for being generally entertained. Our eyes can view beauty but it is not required to procreate, yet they transmit pictures to our brains which interpret them positively even if for no other reason than to make us happy. Why would anyone drink anything with flavor, when apparently only water is required to live. Why does food taste good? Taste alone is not a requirement of nutrition. Vegetables grown in Alaskan summers have nutrients in them but have no taste.

    Go ahead and devoid yourself of any and all pleasures that serve no purpose other than pleasure themselves. See how long you live, how productive you can be.

    Me, I’ll be spanking it until my wife comes home.

    Hmm, I wonder why people get married. We don’t need it for procreation or to raise children.

  36. Wake me when we can produce clones from skin cells.

    I want my Ghola.

  37. Nevertheless, the Vatican holds that the release of sperm outside of the “procreative act” is morally suspect.

    Not true. Nocturnal emissions and removal of sperm directly from the epididymis (as is done for some fertility testing) are not considered morally wrong.

    Also note that the Church opposes female masturbation, cunnilingus that is not a component of a procreative sex act, and other sexual behaviors that do not involve ejaculation. So perhaps — just perhaps! — you and Python are oversimplifying the Church’s teachings on this matter a mite.

  38. I don’t fucking care what the Vatican has to say about anything.

    You obviously care enough to say so — indeed, enough to use a colorful expletive in saying so.

  39. Tulpa,

    He’s aggressively uninterested, like Ford Prefect at the cricket match.

  40. Masturbation is an intrinsically and gravely disordered action not just because sperm is released. It’s equally disordered for women to masturbate and they don’t release sperm in doing so.

    That is not strictly speaking true. Masturbation that is a component of a procreative act is not morally wrong. For instance, according to my “unrated version” of the Catechism, a good devout Catholic woman may strum her clitty if the purpose is to get the parts lubed up so that the good devout Catholic man can gently slide his uncovered pecker…well you get the idea.

  41. I’ll be in my bunk — with my Unrated Catechism.

  42. Is autogamy a possibility? I have always felt the world needs more mes.

  43. BROTHER COBB, A GOOD CATHOLIC NEEDS A CHAPERON WHEN GOING TO HIS BUNK. THE URKOBOLD SUGGESTS EMPLOYING A NUN.

  44. Determining Paternal responsibility should be pretty interesting once this technology becomes available. Right now, a man is responsible for child support, even if the sperm used to conceive is stolen or the man is raped. What happens when someone can create a child with his skin cells without consent?

  45. guy1138,

    We adopt the reasonable Egyptian practice of considering the mother the sole parent. Despite the soap opera cliche, very few women are unaware they have had a child.

  46. GodlessAtheists ? PeopleWhoCantFigureThingsOut ? PeopleWhoDrinkCopperTinctures ? FansOfRushTheCanadianBand = the libertarian coalition.

  47. Yippee! Lonewacko came back to make sure that his pointless drivel no one gives a shit about is properly formatted! What a professional – an inspiration to other self-absorbed assholes everywhere!

  48. “I want my Ghola”

    Dune: Messiah sux.

  49. What do you mean, I can’t do it anymore!?

  50. economist,

    No, it doesn’t. It’s just not totally full of awesome like Dune. In fact, I’m going to just say it now–I like all of FRANK Herbert’s Dune novels. Not all equally, but I like them all the same.

    Brian Herbert, on the other hand, has not done so well, and I refuse to read his vaguely Dune-like novels.

    On the gripping hand, Harvard Lampoon’s Doon is greatness in textual form.

  51. No, it doesn’t. It’s just not totally full of awesome like Dune. In fact, I’m going to just say it now–I like all of FRANK Herbert’s Dune novels. Not all equally, but I like them all the same.

    I hate to be a heretic, but I liked Dune Messiah about the same *amount* as Dune, though admittedly for very different reasons. After that, they kind of fall off quality-wise.

  52. ‘Wow, all the Catholic references…This post just hung a big sign out front saying: MAD MAX, PLEASE REPORT FOR DUTY.’

    Cool your jets. If you can’t be bothered to stand in front of the mirror and say ‘Bloody Mary’ three times (invoking the spirit of Mary I, the last Catholic Queen of England not to be deposed or denied the crown), then why should I even bother to respond to the summons?

    ‘Of course, Monty Python is spoofing Roman Catholic doctrine.’

    Really? The fact is, they are *affirming* Catholic doctrine. There is nothing sacred about sperm in Catholic teaching – in fact, the use of sperm outside the context of the conjugal act is denounced.

    A better way to put it is, ‘Monty Python are Papist stooges.’

    I hope this doesn’t interfere with your enjoyment of their work.

    Recall, also, that in ‘The Meaning of Life,’ the Sperm Song is followed up by a non-Catholic man boasting of his freedom from Catholic restrictions on artificial birth control – he proclaims that, if he wants to, he could get himself a great big condom and have sex. His wife responds, in effect, that the question is pretty much academic, since the non-Catholic guy just never bothers to get it up.

    ‘”The Papacy is nothing other than the ghost of the deceased Roman Empire, sitting crowned upon the grave thereof.” – Thomas Hobbes’

    Just curious – how many people on this forum endorse Thomas Hobbes’ views on politics? He is infamous for his secularist approach – taking social contract theory and using it to justify absolute government. In contrast, the Catholic Church (most famously in works of St. Robert Bellarmine) points out that governments (even monarchical governments) are established by the consent of the governed, and can be overthrown by the people if they become too oppressive.

    As between Hobbes and the Catholic Church, who best expresses America’s founding principles? Or even modern libertarian principles?

  53. Elemenope,

    Wrong! Go re-read the books and don’t talk to me until you can move the muscle in the back of your little toe without using any other muscles.

    We’ll work on the Voice in a couple of years, if I don’t kill you with the gom jabbar first.

  54. “As between Hobbes and the Catholic Church, who best expresses America’s founding principles?”

    neither?

    to his credit, hobbes never played shuffleboard with masterclass pedos.

  55. Belated (should have posted this the morning of January 28) happy Feast of St. Thomas Aquinas, everybody. Or happy Reason Day, as Michael Flynn would have it. (Not the Reason contributor, but the science fiction author with an interest in the Middle Ages.)

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