Poll of a Billion Monkeys

Saturday, December 30, 2006

5 Misconceptions Concerning Stem Cell Research

In early December, Jack posted an article on stem cell research that I disagreed with slightly, and we had a valient back-and-forth in the comments that ended in the anticlimactic conclusion of each of us agreeing to disagree (how typical).

In the spirit of stealing the last word, I wanted to post a snippet of an article I wrote after our debate entitled "5 Common Misconceptions Concerning Stem Cell Research." Enjoy!

Misconception 1. Adult stem cell research has yielded working treatments whereas embryonic stem cell research has not; due to this fact, embryonic stem cell research should be replaced by adult stem cell research.

The first claim in this argument is absolutely true; adult stem cell research has resulted in working treatments for diseases whereas embryonic stem cell research has not. What proponents of this argument fail to mention, however, is the fact that adult stem cell research began as far back as 1964, while human embryonic stem cell research began as recently as 1998. This means that adult stem cell research has had a 34-year head start on embryonic stem cell research. It seems reasonable to believe that, given the enormous head start, adult stem cell research should produce therapies ahead of its younger counterpart.

The logical fallacy inherent in this argument is the creation of a false dichotomy. The implied line of reasoning goes as follows: adult stem cell research has produced useable therapies, embryonic stem cell research has not; therefore, adult stem cell research should replace embryonic stem cell research. The truth of the matter, however, is that embryonic and adult stem cell research should be viewed as complementary to each other, not mutually exclusive. There are certain diseases that would best be treated using the patient’s own stem cells, while there are other diseases that require embryonic as opposed to adult stem cells. The idea that there is a winner-take-all contest between adult stem cell research and embryonic stem cell research is simply wrong.

Misconception 2. There are deep scientific flaws concerning embryonic stem cell research; due to this fact, it should be halted.

There are many problems embryonic stem cell researchers are currently attempting to overcome; not the least of these being the development of tumors and donor rejection. Nobody is denying the existence of problems; after-all, if there were not any problems with embryonic stem cell therapies, there would not be a need for research in the first place!

This argument is fueled solely by people’s feelings of “moral obligation” to stop embryonic stem cell research. There is no empirical evidence to support completely abandoning a line of research simply because of donor rejection or tumor development. Take organ donation, for example: researchers were able to derive treatments to reduce the likelihood of the recipient rejecting the organ. The same could most likely be accomplished with embryonic stem cell treatments given further research.

If medical researchers abandoned promising therapies every time they encountered problems, our medical prowess would be a mere skeleton of what it is today.


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1 comment:

Jack said...

In this case Steve, no, I think I'll have the last word.

Welcome Aboard.