Re "Cloned Embryos Created to Match Stem Cells," May 20: When -- not if -- South Korea or another country develops viable procedures to cure Alzheimer's, diabetes, Parkinson's disease and other ills, will we here in the U.S. be able to import the benefits of stem cell research?
President Bush may say he is keeping me safe from the evil terrorists; is he also going to keep me "safe" from evil science?
Robert J. Schlesinger
Re "Bush Objects to Stem Cell Bill," May 21: Bush states that he is against the use of "taxpayers' money to promote science which destroys life in order to save life."
If Bush is so concerned about destroying life to save life, how can he justify invading Iraq? Aren't we destroying lives to purportedly save lives?
Alison M. Grimes
Re "Bioethicists Fiddle as Patients Die," Commentary, May 22: I understand the allure of real or imaginary immediate cures for terrible diseases. However, to describe a days-old human embryo as a "tiny clump of cells" is reprehensibly disingenuous. Under a microscope, Michael Kinsley himself might appear to be nothing more than a big clump of cells.
But the clump of cells that he dismisses shares a human genetic blueprint and would develop into a human being.
This fact may be infuriatingly inconvenient for our medical hopes, but it remains a fact.
I have a lot of problems with Bush, but, in this case, Bush is right.
Kinsley is right to applaud advances in embryonic stem cell research and to condemn the fatuous calls for a moratorium by Leon Kass, the chairman of the President's Council on Bioethics.
However, Kinsley is wrong to suggest that bioethicists, as a whole, do not serve important social purposes.
Bioethicists have played a critical role in advancing the rights of patients, protecting research subjects and generating public dialogue on matters that were once taboo, such as physician-assisted suicide. Bioethicists also often help individual patients and their families with difficult personal decisions like the choice of whether to withdraw a feeding tube.
The real problem is not with bioethicists or the field of bioethics. The real problem is many on the president's council hold extreme views well outside the mainstream of modern bioethical thought.
Jacob M. Appel
Adjunct Assistant Professor
Therapeutic cloning (salvaging embryonic stem cells for disease treatment) is vastly different from reproductive cloning (embryonic stem cells allowed to grow to full maturity), although they both entail the same (or similar) salvage techniques to harvest necessary embryonic stem cells: Embryonic human beings are sacrificed and discarded to obtain the stem cells.
This has created enormous conflict between people of religious faith and the scientific community. As a physician-scientist and a Christian-bioethicist, may I offer, perhaps, a solution to the ethical dilemma of sacrificing embryonic humans for scientific purposes.
Most sources of embryonic tissue (fertilized human ova) are destined to be discarded as excess from in vitro fertilization clinic supplies. The inner cell mass of these embryos are the site for stem cell salvage. Present techniques take all cells from the inner cell mass for stem cell culture research. The embryonic human is destroyed in the process, causing ethical conflict.
We often harvest organs or tissue from humans who are unable to give consent, relying upon family members to obtain the necessary permission for harvest. Similarly with embryonic tissue, the "parents" could grant permission to organ harvest from their fertilized ova, rather than sacrifice the entire embryo to obtain stem cells.
Instead of taking all inner cell mass stem cells, a portion of these cells could be harvested, leaving the embryonic human relatively intact. This would transform the embryo from a sacrificed, discarded human to an organ donor, a concept well understood and regulated by the ethics of medical research.
William J. Loskota
Keck School of Medicine