Sunday, June 05, 2005

Starstruck on stem cells

I'll never wash my comments thread again (I mean that as self-deprecating humor, in case it's not clear) -- Jonathan Alter himself commented on my fisking of his column:
jan...your faith in adult stem cell research would be touching if it wasn't so ignorant. why do you write about things you know nothing about? I had an autologous adult stem cell transplant last summer. I hope it keeps me alive. But it was not curative. One of the promising ways to get a cure for my cancer and many other diseases is by getting someone else's stem cells. But my siblings did not match and receiving a stranger's would be extremely dangerous. The South Korean research points the way to an allogenaic stem cell transplant that could save my life and that of many others (you're pro-life, aren't you? So you want to save my life, right?). But the only way is with embryonic stem cells. Adult stem cells are rejected. (IT's complicated scientifically). You have been sold a bill of goods. I WISH adult stem cells were enough. But I need to do more than wish. I need to stay alive.

Best wishes,
Jonathan Alter

OK, so it was snide and condescending, but his stuff appears in Newsweek, and mine appears in, well, in A World of Speculation (and I've been known to be snide and condescending myself, so I guess I'm in good company). Anyway, to save you the trouble of finding the comment thread, here's my reply:
Wow, I got a comment from Jonathan Alter. I average 27 hits a day, but you've got to be worth at least six.

Anyway, I'm glad you're still alive and that your cancer is in remission. I hope for a lasting cure.

That said, all of us are terminal at some time or another, and I still don't see that you've stated any limitation on what the more powerful (wealthy, adult, articulate, well-connected) may take from the less powerful (small, defined as expendable, lacking connections or protection, unable to command resources).

I am at this time free of terminal illnesses, but I would hope that if I were faced with that challenge I would not be willing to take the life of another person to extend my own.

None of the stem cell technologies are reliable as yet, and people who lived and died before them -- or before penicillin, for that matter -- lived and died according to time not of their own making. Even after penicillin, people yet live and die outside their own control, and so too if and when stem cell technologies are perfected.

You don't believe these embryos are people, probably because they are so small -- a tragic failure of imagination common to our time. But at what point does the embryo become large enough to command its own destiny? Is it when your imagination takes hold? When the Supreme Court determines it to have human life? When the mother looks into its face and says, "I recognize you"?

Some bioethicists have said that we should allow abortions up to two years past birth. [Correction on this: I was thinking of Peter Singer, who has said, "a newborn baby is of less value than the life of a pig, a dog, or a chimpanzee." Recast the following as adjusted.] Think what a resource those large fetuses would be -- the organs that could save the lives of important artists, scientists, professors, writers, government officials, captains of industry. Think of a two-year-old you know -- he is not different in essence from the embryo smaller than a period that he was just a little less than three years ago.

I wish you a long and fruitful life, but not at the expense of the life of another who is equally a person, equally valuable.

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