Reeve Death Doesn't Justify Farming Humans

Mark Oshinskie
Reproduced with Permission

Dear Editor:

Upon his death, many have hailed Christopher Reeve's "courageous" advocacy of embryonic stem cell research ("ESCR"). However, one might question why the wealthy, good-looking Mr. Reeve received attention that many other suffering people never get. Beyond that, one might wonder whether Mr. Reeve would have ever cared about this issue if he did not have a personal stake in it.

These questions aside, one must feel very sorry for those whose bodies are failing, especially those with spinal cord injuries. Yet, this sympathy should not block consideration of whether the overstated benefits of this research justify the means: cutting up human embryos. Initially, there are practical obstacles. Taking cells from IVF-derived embryos and putting them into adults is unlikely to work for two basic reasons. First, early research shows that the life force contained in embryos is so vigorous that transplanted cells multiply too rapidly and into too many types of cells to be therapeutic; thus, embryonic cells may intensify, not ameliorate, physical problems. Second, IVF-derived embryos have different DNA than that of prospective recipients. Thus, tissue rejection seems likely. This is why Mr. Reeve and others also support "therapeutic cloning:" the placement of adult cells in enucleated eggs so that genetic replicas of the adult can be farmed and then harvested. However, even if cloning were to work, there will simply never be enough such eggs to treat all of the persons to whom cures have been hyped. In order to derive enough embryos to treat the 16 million Americans with diabetes alone, over 850 million eggs will be required.

The moral problems with embryonic stem cell research are wrongly dismissed with the argument that embryos are insignificant because they are, well, so small. Yet, if the embryos were not human, canine embryos would do. Moreover, if, despite their smallness, embryos did not have a unique identity, couples would not insist on the creation and implantation of only their, presumably special, embryos and there would not be big lawsuits when IVF clinics mistakenly implant the wrong embryos.

Further, in examining the context of embryo research, one sees both how science interacts with culture, and the future of biotech, generally. One should begin by asking: where did they get all those frozen embryos that are about to be vivisected? In IVF, many surplus embryos are manufactured, at the cost of millions of insurance-subsidized dollars, in a nation that does not provide even basic medical coverage for 45 million people. IVF is used principally by those who are infertile from STD or abortion scarring and/or who have waited until advanced reproductive ages to form lasting relationships and to attempt childbearing.

In turn, one might ask, why do so many Americans have STD and abortion scarring and/or wait until after 35 to marry and/or attempt conception? Mass reliance on birth control, including abortion, since the 1960s has created an experimental/disposable mindset about sexuality, reluctance about commitment and an unwillingness to sustain marriages. It's interesting, but sad, to hear parents of thirty year olds who favor abortion and birth control lament their child's inability to find a committed mate in our "hookup" culture.

These developments have compromised Americans' natural fertility. Characteristically, instead of re-examining, and perhaps modifying, their behavior, Americans have arrogantly transformed conception into a technological enterprise, delivered by a lucrative, lavishly supported industry.

When IVF began twenty-five years ago, who would have believed that it would soon generate 400,000 frozen embryos that could be cut up for parts? Now that this has come to pass, why should anyone be so na•ve to think there are any limits to the biotech enterprise, as long as there is money to be made and a prevailing ethos that nature can and should be subjugated to fulfill short term, individual desires. Scientists are attempting to extend lives without regard to the kind of world those in which those lives will be lived.

Given the human harvest of embryos entailed by stem cell work, don't be surprised by anything. Rather, expect to see, among other things, the mining of eggs from impoverished women to attempt to treat some of the afflicted, the harvesting of organs from IVF'd or cloned fetuses, the extraction of tissue from the old and disabled, designed humanoids and a profoundly alienated, numbly self-centered culture. One corrupt process will continue to be stacked upon another. Developing an exit strategy for biotech will be even harder than developing one for Iraq.

Mark Oshinskie, J.D.
240 Wayne St.
Highland Park, NJ 08904

Mark Oshinskie is an attorney, the creator of the HumanFuture website, and the author of many published bioethics essays.