Stem Cells


One woman writes, “I was in my ninth month of pregnancy feeling very uncomfortable. And on top of all of this, my pleas for sympathy from my husband seemed to be going unnoticed. So one day I said to him, ‘I hope in your next life you get to be pregnant!’ – which caused him to reply, ‘And I hope in your next life you get to be married to someone who is pregnant!’”

In North America, one in ten couples are considered infertile (unable to conceive a child naturally).   So this has led to the rise of “in-vitro” or “in-glass”  fertilization (a process in which, outside the body, eggs are fertilized by sperm in petri dishes and actual life is formed).  An embryo is then placed inside the woman’s womb in the hope that it will attach itself to the uterine wall and grow for nine months until a baby is delivered.  Because the uterine-attachment-success rate is so low (25%), twelve embryos are usually formed, allowing for a ready-made supply to draw from.  (Upon lab-dish conception, the embryos are immediately frozen at -321 degrees and then thawed out as needed.)  So in the usual scenario – the first three embryos fail to attach (and die) until the fourth one finally takes hold.  But that leaves the other eight embryos in frozen limbo.  And the decision as to what to do with these lives rest solely with the parents –  some use them for future children of their own, some make them available to other infertile couples, some have them discarded, and some, unable to take a life, keep them frozen in perpetuity, up to a cost of  $2,000 a year.  But some donate them to scientific research.

It is this last decision, to donate the embryos to science, that brings up the stem cell debate.  Let me explain.  In the first week of conception, the cells in the embryo are like super cells, loaded with the capability to make up everything else in the body.  And most importantly, at this stage, they appear to be disease free.  But after one week, these super cells begin to specialize, going out in hundreds of different directions to make the various body parts – and if a present or future disease is going to appear, it will be at this time.  What science wants to do is harvest these cells when they are at their disease-free (stem) stage to: learn their health secrets, cure diseases, build replacement organs, etc.  But to do so, scientists  must un-freeze a day-old embryo and then kill it before day-seven.  However, to pro-life groups, these embryos are not just chemical tissue but real people who are being murdered so their stem cells can be harvested.  And if stem cell research proves to be successful, the fear is there’ll then be no end to aborted embryos. (Currently in Canada, stem cell research is only legal if parents donate the embryos.  Otherwise, it is against the law for scientists to make up their own embryos through paying others to provide the sperm and egg).  So today, there are around 500,000 embryos are on ice.

The bottom line?  There is a current fund-raising campaign going on to find a cure for ALS (amythrophic lateral sclerosis) a horrible neuro-degenerative disease.  The appeal is called the “Ice Bucket Challenge” – you  let someone pour a pail of ice-cold water over you with the understanding that for you letting them do so, they’ll make a donation to ALS.  Many celebrities have taken part.  But ALS is using  these funds to finance stem-cell research.  And so, as much as I hate to pour cold water on such a good cause, I won’t be taking the challenge.  You see, to me, this is a matter of both life and death.

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