Sunday, June 05, 2005

Stem Cell Debate Myths

In today's Chicago Tribune, editorial board member Steve Chapman identifies misinformation widely disseminated by proponents of embryonic stem cell research (ESCR). We're probably all familiar with the argument that rather than discarding 400,000 frozen, "surplus" embryos in fertilization clinics we should use them for potentially life-saving research. Chapman notes, however:
The truth is that most of them are anything but "surplus." According to a 2003 survey by researchers at the RAND Corp., a California think tank, 88 percent of them are being stored for their original function: to make babies for their parents. (See How Many Frozen Human Embryos are Available for Research.)
Just 2.2 percent of the embryos have been designated for disposal and less than 3 percent for research. The latter group amounts to about 11,000 embryos.
Chapman points out that given this significantly smaller number, embryo adoption is not as far-fetched an idea as ESCR advocates would have us believe.
The RAND study concluded that the 11,000 embryos would yield no more than 275 stem cell lines, far less than the "hundreds of thousands" of lines (derived from millions of embryos) that may be required according to a Scientific American article. I fear Chapman is right about the reason ESCR advocates pushed for the federal bill recently passed by the House. I also agree with his concluding note of caution:
....they want Americans to get used to the idea of destroying human embryos in research. Then it will be a small step to get the public to accept what they really want--creating human life in order to destroy it.
Maybe most Americans will support creating vast farms of tiny embryos that will be culled like cattle for their stem cells. But if that's where this train is going, we ought to know it before we get on board.


Sarah Flashing said...

Steve Chapman continues to be most impressive. I wish the rest of the Tribune writers would be as accurate in their reporting. See previous headlines and captions suggesting that Bush is against stem cell research.

Franklin Mason said...

I'm curious. My twins were conceived via in vitro fertilization. But a few embryos were left over at then end of the process and were thus frozen. Each year, my wife and I had to decide what to do with those left: either keep frozen, dispose, or use for research. For many years, we kept them in storage although we had no intention to have them implanted in my wife. We simply didn't much like the other options. I wonder how many people are in this situation? They don't opt for disposal or research, but have no real intent to ever make us of them. If the number is great, the low percentages of those who have chosen either disposal or research might drastically underestimate the number of embryos that will never be implanted.

Rachel Motte said...

Franklin, Have you considered putting your family's remaining embryos up for adoption? Check out for more info.

Franklin Mason said...

We've already done so. But of course 'adoption' is a loaded term in this context . . ..

KP said...

Franklin, I'm glad to have you as a regular reader and appreciate your comments.

I'm curious about what made you and your wife uncomfortable with either donating your embryos for research or discarding them.

Franklin Mason said...

We didn't discuss it in any depth. In retrospect, I suppose that we felt that the embryos were not mere things, that they demanded some degree of respect. On reflection, I've come to the view that they are not human beings. They are pre-human, it seems to me, and do not demand the same respect we give of a human being. But they are not nothing, morally speaking.

Or so it seems to me now. But I'm not dogmatic about any of this.

Did you see my posts about the NY Times piece? It was one of your blog entries for May, I think. I say a bit more there.

KP said...

Franklin, I did see your comments in response to the May post I called "Thank You, New York Times!" Thanks. I left a brief reply just now.