“The world’s first clinical trial of brain stem cells to treat stroke has recorded no adverse effects to date, BBC News has reported. The BBC website reports that research using stem cells to treat strokes “is set to move to its next phase” after independent assessors approved continuation of the trial of the experimental treatment. So far the therapy has been tested on three patients left disabled by strokes.”
The problem is that the cells were harvested from the brains of 12 week old aborted fetuses. The researchers at the University of Glascow, Scotland, working with the company, “ReNeuron,” harvested the cells, manipulated them with genes to induce them to become immortal stem cells that will divide infinitely and now have what appears to an endless supply of proprietary cells for future research and treatments of stroke victims.
The abortions were not done for the purpose of harvesting the cells, but there is still a problem with determining whether or not we would be complicit with the original abortion and making future abortions seem more acceptable (since parents might be told that “some good” could come from using the dead child’s tissues), if we approve or use the cells.
Traditional formal ethics weighs several conditions to decide whether knowledge and treatments are licit or ethical when using human tissues derived from cadavers. Simply put, the questions are whether the killing done for the purpose of harvesting research material, how many steps are between the decision to kill and the decision to use the tissues , would using the treatment encourage more killing, how great is the benefit from the treatment and are there alternatives available?
And then, there’s what has been called the “yuck factor.”
The current ethics community ignores most of these questions, having settled on a common theme of utilitarianism, or “the greatest good for the greatest number.” Otherwise known as “might makes right:” because the powerful, the ones with the lawyers and the degrees decides what is “good.” And who to count or who not to count as human enough to have the right not to be killed. Frankly, this is no different than deciding that the one with the biggest guns and most soldiers may enslave and kill – especially kill – anyone who gets in their way.
The good news is that research using adult stem cells and cells from umbilical cord blood are also being used in human trials.