Government Spending

Do Skin Cells Have Souls?

The debate over stem cells is back, and better than ever.

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Less than two years ago, it looked like the ethical debate over human embryonic stem cells might be coming to an end. In November 2007, two research groups, one at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and another at Kyoto University in Japan, announced that they had succeeded in directly reprogramming human skin cells into stem cells. Earlier this year, Canadian and British researchers reported even better news. They have developed a new way to create such cells without using viruses, which pose a risk of producing tumors by damaging the transformed cells' genes.

Yesterday, as many as 700 new stem cell lines were approved for use in federally funded research by the National Institutes of Health, reversing the policy of the George W. Bush administration to restrict funding to just a handful of approved cell lines on ethical grounds.

With the new stem cell lines comes a new round in the debate over cells and souls. "These guidelines encourage researchers to go out and destroy embryos for taxpayer-funded research," Richard Doerflinger of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops told The Washington Post. "You and I were once human embryos, and each embryo has the inherent potential to grow into you and me." 

Stem cells derived from skin cells sidestep the ethical concerns that some people have about destroying embryos to produce stem cells because they supposedly cannot develop into human fetuses, much less full-term babies. But is that so? In 2007, a team of researchers led by Massachusetts Institute of Technology biologist Rudolf Jaenisch showed that stem cells from mouse skin cells—induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs)—could be grown into mouse embryos. The team achieved this feat by injecting stem cells produced from mouse skin into special tetraploid blastocysts which can produce only placental tissue. Tetraploid blastocysts are produced by jamming mouse zygotes together so that they join to create cells that have twice the DNA of normal cells. The pre-implantation embryos composed of tetraploid cells and iPSCs can develop to term after being transferred into the womb of a surrogate mother. In other words, mouse skin cells can be transformed into mouse embryos. There is no reason to believe that this would not also work for human skin cells.

This development has prompted a biologist and a bioethicist to take on the argument that the "natural potentiality" of human embryos to develop themselves means that they must be accorded the full moral respect we give to adult human beings. As Duquesne University bioethicist Gerard Magill and Stowers Institute for Medical Research president and biologist William Neaves assert in the March 2009 issue of The Kennedy Institute of Ethics Journal (subscription required), "a reprogrammed human cell is not fundamentally different from a nuclear-transfer or natural fertilization zygote in its ability to become a fetus."

They acknowledge that a conventionally produced or cloned zygote makes its own placenta while the reprogrammed skin cells must be provided one. Is that enough to make a difference in the cells' moral status? Magill and Neaves don't think so. They point out that placental cells need signals from embryonic cells in order for a placenta to develop as well. Magill and Neaves go on to speculate about the possibility of using direct reprogramming to create induced totipotent stem cells from skin cells. In this case, the reprogrammed skin cells would have the capacity, if installed in a womb, to produce all embryonic stem cell lineages including placental cells.

Magill and Neaves conclude that the fact that ordinary body cells can be transformed into embryos argues against according a special moral status to early stage embryos, describing them as "matter that is inadequate for the so-called form of human personhood."

Naturally their argument has opponents. In the same journal issue, University of Utah neurobiologist Maureen Condic, Franciscan University of Steubenville bioethicist Patrick Lee, and Princeton University professor of jurisprudence Robert George claim that the details of biology of embryos and iPSCs make all the moral difference. Specifically, they assert that stem cells and iPSCs "will participate in embryonic development if they are injected into an embryo that is incapable of forming [an inner cell mass]." What can they mean by "injected into an embryo"? Are Condic, Lee, and George calling a tetraploid blastocyst—a group of cells that can only become placental tissue—an embryo? It is a very odd kind of "embryo" that can only form placental tissue, which is not tissue that can grow into a body.

The ethical analysis offered by Condic, Lee, and George turns chiefly on the question of whether or not a placenta is "a component of a supportive environment or a component of the embryo." They argue that Magill and Neaves are wrong to say that a "zygote makes its own placenta, while the reprogrammed skin cell must be provided with one, but the placenta never becomes part of the embryo itself."  On their view, the fact that a regular zygote (conventionally produced or cloned) can produce the cells that make a placenta is ethically decisive.

If this is so, then it would seem that Condic, Lee, and George must be committed, at least, to the idea that an entity comprised of a tetraploid blastocyst and reprogrammed human skin cells must be the moral equivalent of a conventionally produced embryo—that is, the human equivalent of the mouse embryo produced by the MIT biologists.

Condic, Lee, and George apparently take their final stand when they argue that totipotency, the ability to produce both body cells and placental cells, requires the regulatory molecules in egg cytoplasm. "The oocyte is not simply a source of generic, chemical 'reprogramming factors,' it is a highly structured cell with unique material composition and a unique organization of these components—all of which are required for totipotency."

Perhaps Condic, Lee, and George are right. Maybe true induced totipotent* stem cells are impossible and it will always take the regulatory factors in human eggs to produce viable conventional, cloned, or iPSC human embryos. But do they really want to bet against researchers figuring out what those regulatory factors are and then using them to reprogram skin cells? Back in 1997, it was settled scientific doctrine that mammals could never be cloned; then along came a sheep named Dolly. In fact, Condic, Lee, and George may be wrong when they assert that human stem cells and iPSCs cannot make placental cells. Current data do not rule out the possibility that stem cells and iPSCs may be totipotent.

If it turns out that it is possible to reprogram skin cells directly into complete embryos, one can hope that the increasingly desperate and convoluted arguments against human embryonic stem cell research made by Condic, Lee, George, and other opponents will finally collapse.

As our biological knowledge and prowess increase, it is likely that opponents of stem cell research will one day be relegated to claiming that the moral status of a human cell depends on how a single molecule is positioned on a strand of DNA. More moral insight might be garnered from arguments about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.

CORRECTION: Condic, Lee, and George are skeptical of the possibility of true induced totipotent stem cells, not true induced pluripotent stem cells.

Ronald Bailey is Reason magazine's science correspondent. His book Liberation Biology: The Scientific and Moral Case for the Biotech Revolution is now available from Prometheus Books.

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  1. Every skin cell is sacred
    Every skin cell is great
    If a skin cell gets wasted
    God is quite irate.

  2. What about snot cells? Can they be reprogramed to make a baby? If I blow my nose, am I an abortionist?

  3. Ron Bailey doesn’t believe anyone has souls.

  4. “I hate dead baby fetuses, you know why? Because they are dead and they shouldn’t be. They should be alive, and they should be loved.”

  5. Two abortion threads? Slow down guys, it’s just Tuesday.

  6. You can’t blame Nancy Pelosi for this one.

    Today the Senate antitrust subcommittee will hold hearings on perhaps the only American institution less popular than Congress itself: the Bowl Championship Series (BCS). Like an earlier hearing in the House, this one will ask whether the system by which college football chooses its national champion is “fair.”

    Now when members of Congress get together to discuss antitrust law and “fairness,” it’s typically a Blue State kind of thing. But today’s grandstanding — as well as the earlier hearing in the House — comes courtesy of the GOP. You know, the party in favor of “smaller” and “less intrusive” government.

    Specifically, the congressional look-see into college football has been led by Sen. Orrin Hatch (R., Utah) and Rep. Joe Barton (R., Texas). They have not been shy about the menace they see. Mr. Hatch calls the BCS “un-American.” Mr. Barton likens it to “communism.” The Texas Republican has even introduced legislation that would forbid the BCS from holding a “national championship game” unless that game was the result of playoffs.

    More at:

    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB124692993074303505.html

  7. Government funding of stem cell research is immoral because it is not a legitimate function of government to use tax money to fund private business interests.

  8. Government funding of stem cell research is immoral because it is not a legitimate function of government to use tax money to fund private business interests.

    True, but that is dodging the interesting questions. Is it any more or less immoral than the thousands of other private interests the government supports? Is it immoral for a private company to perform stem cell research?

  9. A moronic article that creates a red-herring out of caricature of people who hold to a consistent ethics of human life, and of the ethics itself. Favorable commentaries also denote people suffering from the same intellect-limiting handicap as the author.

    In fact, human beings are part and parcel of the ecosphere. I find it quite unreasonable, nay, HYPOCRITICAL that people who object to ecological depradations – whale killing, baby-seal clubbing, large-scale fishing, industrial agriculture, etc – have no such qualms when it comes to the mass destruction of at least two generations of people and now the growing advocacy to tap into the abortion industry to harvest cells and body parts as commodities.

    Understand this, please: human beings are not utilities; they are not commodities to be wantonly exploited. Human beings are not means to an end, but ends in themselves. One human being, by all measures alive, cannot be destroyed in order to be used as a harvesting field for the improvement of other people’s lives.

    We have already seen where the slippery slope of denying the humanity of a group of people for reasons of race, language, culture, and religion took us in the the 20th century: to lampshades made of human skin and worse in the highly-efficient, scientifically-built gas chambers of Nazi Germany.

    Now, “bright ones” like this author and the likely-minded not only want to dilute our very humanity inside a test tube, but also through a decanter of high-folluted verborrhea passed off as “science,” in order to justify the obscenity of having gestating human beings killed and their cells harvested “for the good of the many.” They advocate the destruction of human beings on grounds that their cellular development doesn’t qualify them as such. And since they pretend not to see any reasonable limit on when and who to kill because the very concept of “humanity” has become an ungraspable concept in their way of thinking, anyone is fair game.

    Give me an ethical, Pro-Life person over morally-challenged “scientists” who see human beings as things and objects to be manipulated at whim, ANY DAY. The world would then become a better place even if “progress” takes a little bit more to happen.

    -Theo

  10. toto | July 7, 2009, 4:19pm | #
    Ron Bailey doesn’t believe anyone has souls.

    Is that true? Then the headline is totally disingenuous. booo.

  11. These people just don’t get it:

    We’re software, not hardware.

  12. ‘Government funding of stem cell research is immoral because it is not a legitimate function of government to use tax money to fund private business interests.’

    How can it be immoral? A taxpayer is simply a clump of cells to be harvested in the broader interests of humanity.

    You wouldn’t claim that a taxpayer conceived in a laboratory had full human rights, would you? Of course not – that would be silly! But a taxpayer conceived in the normal way will soon be genetically indistinguishable from a taxpayer in a lab.

    You might argue that at some arbitrary point – like birth – a taxpayer becomes a full human being with human rights. But drawing the dividing line at birth is absurd. Do you really want to claim that a person is non-human at the moment before it passes through the birth canal, and human afterwards?

    Away with arbitrary line-drawing! The best way to avoid hairsplitting and complicated arguments about when humanity begins is simply to declare that *no* human beings have human rights.

  13. TDJ: Who said anything about killing human beings? That’s what is at issue. What’s wrong with the arguments made by Magill and Neaves?

  14. Bring that fucking baboon Andrew Napalitano in on this one – seeing its a SCOTUS type case. I am sure he supports the death penalty for dermatologists.

  15. Why do you insist on associating ethics and morality with a political religious stance? Ethics and morality, unlike divinity is a universal concept, not limited to the cultural beliefs and convictions of individuals or organizations for the purpose of social control.
    What is Reason if it is a tool of belief?

  16. In 2007, a team of researchers led by Massachusetts Institute of Technology biologist Rudolf Jaenisch showed that stem cells from mouse skin cells-induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs)-could be grown into mouse embryos. The team achieved this feat by injecting stem cells produced from mouse skin into special tetraploid blastocysts which can produce only placental tissue.

    So if this is such an ethical problem don’t inject the stem cells into the special tetraploid blastocysts. Is there a particular reason for doing this?

  17. “True, but that is dodging the interesting questions. Is it any more or less immoral than the thousands of other private interests the government supports? Is it immoral for a private company to perform stem cell research?”-stuartl

    It’s really the only part of the debate I care about right now. All government support of private interests is immoral. Whether or not it is immoral for a private company to perform stem cell research is up to the market of ideas to decide.

    “How can it be immoral? A taxpayer is simply a clump of cells to be harvested in the broader interests of humanity.”-Mad Max

    Creating a taxpayer is itself immoral. Doing so is supporting slavery and cruelty. 🙂

  18. well unless you belive in some ancient reliogion based on gods and myhtology, oh wait thats all religions……. Look a soul is a made up thing, when you die you are gone, so of course a reprogrammed cell can not have a mythical notion inside it!

  19. If it turns out that it is possible to reprogram skin cells directly into complete embryos, one can hope that the increasingly desperate and convoluted arguments against human embryonic stem cell research made by Condic, Lee, George, and other opponents will finally collapse.

    I don’t see how it would collapse. If it were possible to create an adult human by constructing it from pieces that aren’t human (i.e. Frankenstein’s monster), it would still be a person once it is constructed. Similarly, if you can take a skin cell and turn it into an embryo, it has the same rights as a regular embryo.

  20. From the Ron Bailey article:

    ‘More moral insight might be garnered from arguments about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.’

    This sentence includes a link showing that nobody is known to have engaged in such speculation – it was an invention of certain satirists to spoof the medieval Scholastics – who did not, in fact, discuss angels on pins.

    The pinheads are those who believe this old canard.

  21. ‘unless you belive in some ancient reliogion based on gods and myhtology, oh wait thats all religions’

    What about the Unitarian Universalist Association?

  22. ‘Creating a taxpayer is itself immoral. Doing so is supporting slavery and cruelty. :)’

    So if an embryo is genetically predisposed to be a taxpayer, the merciful thing to do would be to destroy it.

  23. Kind of ironic that snotty Christians boast that an atheist can only view man as a collection of [chemicals]. Who’s the one who views the value of human life based on the lack or presence of a chemical now?

    Or is it really nothing to do with morality, ethics or the value of man? It seems much more likely that this is another attempt by the religionists to impede the progress of science, particularly medicine, and increase human suffering and misery. I wish the people who understand the potential of stem cells would grow some balls and stand up to these bullies. Then again, I’d like to own a perpetual motion machine.

  24. So if an embryo is genetically predisposed to be a taxpayer, the merciful thing to do would be to destroy it.

    Ironically, it’s a majority of babies that would be born into poverty (read: never pay taxes) that keep getting aborted.

  25. I’m naming my first forehead-skin-derived child Athena.

  26. Some people seem confused as to the REAL issue at stake here. It’s not whether skin cells should be regarded the same way pro-lifers regard embryos; it’s about whether former stem-cell embryos deserve the same natural rights that you and I enjoy. The old “they were going to die anyway” argument is just too absurd to consider, I’m sorry. All it does is justify the creation of embryos for one’s selfish purposes.

  27. agreed@DavidW

    Also, regardless of the merits or demerits of the anti-stem cell arguments, shouldn’t the fact that a substantial portion of taxpayers disagrees with it be reason enough to not force them to pay for it?

  28. I love how Ron never responds to Mad Max.

  29. “If it turns out that it is possible to reprogram skin cells directly into complete embryos, one can hope that the increasingly desperate and convoluted arguments against human embryonic stem cell research made by Condic, Lee, George, and other opponents will finally collapse.”

    I don’t understand this at all. If experimenting with embryos is morally wrong, what difference does it make where they come from? On the other hand, if stem cells can be produced directly from skin, it would render arguments against embryonic stem cell research moot (because we’d just use “skin stem cells” instead of “embryonic stem cells”). Or maybe I’m missing something in the science and that’s not how it works.

  30. Once a cell becomes a zygote, then the ethical questions begin. Until it becomes a zygote, what is there to argue? If you have to take special pains to turn cell A into zygote A, then the obvious solution to the ethical conundrum is, “don’t DO that!”

    It seems so simple. What am I missing? If we can make stem cells from skin cells, wonderful! That’s the grail, holy or not! As long as we can say that “no babies died — or even suffered! — in the making of this research,” then my conscience is clear, even if one believes a zygote to be a baby.

  31. “Also, regardless of the merits or demerits of the anti-stem cell arguments, shouldn’t the fact that a substantial portion of taxpayers disagrees with it be reason enough to not force them to pay for it?” -Lisa

    A slightly different concern, but alas I have to agree with you. Even if the majority supported it, I don’t look kindly upon mob-rule. If this research is so important to some people, let them fund it. I hate taxes anyway.

  32. My old baby sitter from the West Indies was right. Always bury your nail clippings and hair from hair cuts at midnight so the “Maker of Souls” can not create a zombe.

  33. Perhaps Condic, Lee, and George are right. Maybe true induced pluripotent stem cells are impossible and it will always take the regulatory factors in human eggs to produce viable conventional, cloned, or iPSC human embryos.

    Does Bailey mean: “Maybe true induced totipotent stem cells are impossible….”

    Nowhere do Condic, George and Lee deny that true induced pluripotent stem cells exist.

  34. JivinJ: Yes. That’s a typo. I will ask editors to fix. Thanks.

  35. JAM & Chrispy: The question is how close to being embryos/zygotes are skin stem cells?

  36. “You and I were once human embryos, and each embryo has the inherent potential to grow into you and me.”

    And it has the same inherent potential to grow into Joseph Stalin or Charles Manson. What’s the point?

  37. And really, shouldn’t masterbation be banned based on this same logic? I mean, ejaculated sperm has the potential to fertilize an egg and create human life and can probably do it with a hell of a lot less effort than turning skin cells into a kid.

  38. If we could expect people to use a little self-restraint or prophylactics to prevent pregnancy, we wouldn’t have to worry about an abortion debate in the first place.

    BTW aborted embryos are not the main source for stem-cell research. It’s the duplicate fertilized embryos from fertility clinincs. Would you suggest that every single embryo be implanted by mandate? This is how we get Octo-Mom. Is this what you want? Over-population here we come! People are going to have sex and people are going to do it without protection and “God” is going to “bless” people who screw like rabbits with many, many “precious little bundles of joy” and anything anyone tries to do to amend that is “immoral”. Well, I think it’s pretty “immoral” to allow people who refuse to limit their breeding to consume the entire human race, and all other living creatures, out of their home: Earth.

    “the mass destruction of at least two generations” Hyperbole much? As far as I can tell, there are billions of people under 40 years old alive today.

  39. I honestly cannot believe I am seeing this on a site that purports to be Libertarian.

    1) Mr Bailey is PRAISING the use of Federal Funds for research. Rather than succumbing to the evangelist-atheist’s desire to confront and defeat Religion wherever found, why not show some intellectual consistency?

    2) There was once a time when Libertarians thought the Rights of Humans were Unalienable. Something makes us special- allows us to own Dogs and kill Cows and experiment on baby rabbits, but DOESN’T allow us to do the same with Humans.

    So the question is, when do we confer Human status? Mr Bailey’s answer seems to be “Never”. Since embryos can be created (with a bunch of human work and intervention) from Skin Cells, they really have no more special status than those Skin Cells.

    But why stop there, Mr Bailey? At some point we ought to bring those Skin-Cell embryos to full term, too! So babies don’t deserve any more special status than Skin Cells, right? And hell, those babies could grow into full-fledged adults, too!

    So Mr Bailey, when will you be reporting to the local medical lab for us to start harvesting your organs? It is for science, after all.

  40. The way I’ve always seen it is until it has a full set of human chromosomes and begins developing as an embryo, it’s not human. Skin cells, no ethical issues. Turning skin cells into embryo’s; ethical issue.

  41. DevHyfes has a good point. Enlighten us, Ron Bailey, on the precise moment that someone does become human. I’m sure I can tear down your answer just as easily as you can insult the answers of others.

  42. When does someone die? I’m pretty sure that there are cellular processes much more complex in a recently deceased human (no heartbeat, no brain activity) than in these embryos.

    We are always just a clump of cells and chemicals. At some point that clump starts running a fairly complex bit of software that allows us to call ourselves human. At some point it stops and we no longer are again.

    Banning stem cell research isn’t going to stop abortions, it isn’t going to stop people going to fertility clinics in order to allow them to create new life that they can raise and love. Every single embryo used for this research will never grow up or live. It is no more alive than your wank rags are alive.

    I don’t care if people want to project some ethereal comment of a “soul” in order to make the feel like they’re something more than a sophisticated arrangement of chemicals. I do care when they actively block research that could prevent real human suffering by people whom we *all* agree are alive to do so.

  43. DevHyfes: Where did I PRAISE federal funding for stem cell research. I REPORTED that it was now expanding.

    I argue (as do Magill and Neaves) that embryos are not people and therefore do not merit the moral consideration we give people. You assert that embryos are people without making an argument was to why other people should agree with your assertion.

  44. Mr Bailey,

    You are right. I misread your reporting as support. I apologize.

    But, Mr Bailey, I believe you also misread my argument. I made no claim as to the Human-ness of an embryo, so I don’t feel inclined to defend that position. I merely criticized your argument as it doesn’t address the Pro-Embryo-Rights crowd’s arguments about WHY an embryo is human, and indeed undermines the argument that there is anything novel or worthy of protection in ANY human.

    Your argument is that because people can (now or one day) take a bunch of non-human bits and assemble them to be an embryo, it must be Non-Human. Of course this ignores the fact that your ideological opponents don’t believe that constituent parts determine humanness. After all, they believe that a non-human sperm and a non-human egg combine, at which point the sum of those parts is Human.

    And of course, if your argument really disproves the Humanness of Embryos, it disproves the Humanness of *you*, too. Unless, of course, you can point to the differentiating factor that sets a (say) 2-month pre-mature baby apart from a fetus.

    At least the Pro-Abortion-Rights crowd has attempted to put their own stake in the ground (the claim is usually that you are human once you are viable outside the womb). However you have undermined even that point with your logic. After all, if the future of science will lead to a day when skin cells can be fully-functioning human adults, then it will also lead to the day when that can be done without ever implanting in the womb. That is, if our potential ability to create human adults blows away the “Embryos are Humans” argument, it also blows away the “Only Viable fetuses are Humans” crowd.

    This is why your argument merely talks past the issue. Science may one day perfectly inform us of how random bits of energy in a vacuum eventually became a person who holds a gun; How chemical reactions between millions of neurons yielded a muscle response that pulled a trigger that caused a chemical reaction in a cartridge; How that imparted kinetic energy into a slug that was then transferred to the mushy insides of a protester; And Science may one day perfectly explain how that protester’s life blood will drain into gutters and eventually become part of a fish that the trigger-man consumes for dinner a year later.

    But if the Libertarian ethos means anything to the readers and founders of Reason, then they need to stop missing the forest for the photosynthesis reaction in the trees. The entire foundation of Liberty instructs us that those actions have significance- some more than other. It wasn’t random energy that killed the protester.

    Mr Bailey’s critics have rightly pointed out that there is significance behind Humans taking skin cells and then tweaking, combining and cajoling them to become an embryo. That significance- taking cells that lacked the capacity to self assemble into a human, and transforming them into something that did- makes Skin Cells and the resulting embryo DIFFERENT- just as a naturally created embryo is different than the sperm and egg comprising it. And until you are willing to approach that significance with something other than a clinical description of the process, this debate will go nowhere.

  45. What if i dont believe in souls should i be denied the research and treatment.

    i think treatment is real simple if you dont like it get out of line

  46. Ratman-

    What if I don’t believe the mentally retarded have souls? Should I be allowed to harvest their organs? How about orphans? Prisoners? Coma patients? The Homeless? Elderly?

    But those supporting Embryonic research instead want to talk about how these embryos wouldn’t have amounted to much anyways, or how much medical research is being held back because they cannot freely experiment on embryos.

    Whether you want to call it a soul or not, at the end of the day we are asking at what point a living organism should be eligible for the types of protections from force that Libertarians claim to cherish. We would likely get lots of valuable insights if we could experiment on convicts. But we don’t, because we claim they are eligible for basic protections.

    And until you can define the point at which a growing fetus becomes a human, then your (and Mr Baily’s) attempts to just discredit the points specified by their opponents means that…uh…no point exists…

  47. You tell me what a soul is, I’ll tell you if a skin cell has one. In fact, whip out a soul and show it to me. If you can’t, then what are we talking about?

  48. Bailey, you begin clouding the argument by blurring the lines between “embryonic stem cells” and “stem cells.”

    You then go on to attempt to belittle Condic, George and Lee by assuming that you understand the definition of “blastocyst.” A blastocyst, by definition, is an embryo. Don’t you think you should know that by now?

    While the tetraploid blastocyst is not a normal embryo, it is an embryo.

    The International Society of Stem Cell Researchers glossary:
    http://www.isscr.org/glossary/index.htm#blastocyst

    If you’ve been paying attention, the functions of the stem cells that we’ve been looking for are only found in cells that are differentiated to a certain degree.

    Embryonic stem cells are not “totipotent,” in that they come from the inner cell mass and have differentiated enough that they can’t form the placenta.

    Purposeful, technical acts are required to produce the blastocyst and inject the induced embryonic-like stem cells. It would take different, even more technical purposeful acts to produce a truly “totipotent” stem cell ine capable of forming an embryo from skin cells.

    It’s easy enough to decide not to create and destroy human embryos, not to clone human embryos, and not to implant human stem cells into human embryos (either normal or abnormal).

  49. While reading this thread I consumed a whole bag of pine nuts. Anyone who really believes “potential to become” is equivalent to “is” ought to hang me for the way I casually destroy countless mature forests. Somehow I’m not worried. I’ve never met the man with the guts to follow his convictions all the way to their inevitably absurd conclusions.

    As for the issue of when we become “human”, why not use something like the Turing test? We wouldn’t grant an artificial intelligence human rights unless it could pass such a test, at which point we would say it is indistinguishable from life/sentience. Why hold that potential intelligence to different standards than any other? Why not apply the same standards to the determination of whether “human rights” apply to all beings?

    And yes, I’m aware of the absurd conclusions of my own viewpoint. Most toddlers become as disposable as baby seals. Maybe one day I’ll have the guts to treat them so.

  50. Houndmaster-

    I’m glad that you are so comfortable in your moral squishiness that you don’t see a need to define when someone is a human being (or you are willing to set a line that would remove rights currently recognized to millions of pre-verbal children).

    However, I cannot let the editors and contributors to Reason off the same hook. This entire publication is dedicated to drawing bright lines and convincing the public to get on the right side of them. They’ll argue day and night about when an action is initiation of force. They’ll go through all sorts of logical gymnastics to then show why it follows that (say) environmental regulations are immoral.

    But when people try to draw a line of where these inviolable liberties start, suddenly the Libertarians just can’t get interested. Attempts to set the line are mocked as useless wastes of time.

    Why is that?

  51. Ron Bailey:
    “I argue (as do Magill and Neaves) that embryos are not people and therefore do not merit the moral consideration we give people. You assert that embryos are people without making an argument was to why other people should agree with your assertion.”

    Mr. Bailey, that is a legal truism based on the current status of the law, not an argument.

    “Person” is a legal construct.

    “Legal personhood” has long been the state’s method of clarifying which human beings are valuable and which human beings are expendable property.

    Furthermore, you should note that DevHyfes did not use the term “person.” That’s all you.

  52. Ron Bailey | July 7, 2009, 5:09pm | #

    TDJ: Who said anything about killing human beings? That’s what is at issue. What’s wrong with the arguments made by Magill and Neaves?

    Ron: In principle, I could recreate you from a bathtub of water, a few pieces of wood, and a bucketful of dirt. That doesn’t mean you are water dirt and wood, nor does it imply that they are you.

    Sure, we could in principle turn a skin cell into a pluripotent cell that mimics a fertilized egg in every way…and in that case we have created a human being. Again, this does not imply that skin cells are humans, nor the reverse.

    There is simply no longer any reason to use embryos in research. Indeed, in the long run, we WON’T be using embryos anyway, as why not use the patient’s own cells? Within that context of using the patient’s own cells, we could create pluripotent embryos, but only should do so for reproductive purposes. We would not need that level of pluripotency in order to treat specific disease.

    There is more than enough highly useful research to do that does NOT involve viable embryos.

  53. I guess that means that tooth I left for the tooth fairy and got paid a quarter for when I was a kid made me a slaver, neh?
    Of course, remember that in the end, those skin cells were made up of the chemicals we take in by eating. I guess that means that we should ban all food research, too?
    Sorry, but I find it hard to believe that anyone takes this seriously. Even the “opponents” of research based on skin cells could only be objecting because they fear it will be used as justification for something else…

  54. My only point is that if you take the Bible straight, as I’m sure many of Reasons readers do, you will see a lot of the Old Testament stuff as absolutely insane. Even some cursory knowledge of Hebrew and doing some mathematics and logic will tell you that you really won’t get the full deal by just doing regular skill english reading for those books. In other words, there’s more to the books of the Bible than most will ever grasp. I’m not concerned that Mr. Crumb will go to hell or anything crazy like that! It’s just that he, like many types of religionists, seems to take it literally, take it straight…the Bible’s books were not written by straight laced divinity students in 3 piece suits who white wash religious beliefs as if God made them with clothes on…the Bible’s books were written by people with very different mindsets…in order to really get the Books of the Bible, you have to cultivate such a mindset, it’s literally a labyrinth, that’s no joke

  55. Skin is your body’s largest organ. It serves as a protective barrier between your insides and the rest of the world, helps regulate body temperature and acts as a filter. Skin exists in a constant state of growth, with old cells dying as new cells are forming. It’s affected by every aspect of your life, from what you eat to where you live. Healthy skin is better able to fight signs of aging, heals much faster and staves off potential disease better than unhealthy skin

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