Ban on ES Cell Patents Deeply Immoral

Procedures that involve human embryonic stem cells cannot be patented, the European Court of Justice recently declared. Apparently on the basis that patents “would be contrary to ethics and public policy”

“The decision from the European court of justice is a legal clarification for a court case brought by Greenpeace against a German scientist, Oliver Brüstle, who patented a way to turn stem cells into healthy brain cells. The environmental group argued that Brüstle’s work was “contrary to public order” because embryos were destroyed to gather the stem cells used.

“The judgment effectively supports the Greenpeace view and imposes a ban on patenting work that uses embryonic stem cells on the grounds that it represents an immoral “industrial” use of human embryos.” (http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2011/oct/18/european-patents-embryonic-stem-cells)

This ruling is deeply immoral. In effect, it shuts down embryonic stem cell research by the back door. This ruling is only supported by a narrow, controversial position on the moral status of the human embryo. It imposes a conservative morality on all Europeans to the detriment of their future health.

This research has enormous potential to treat the effects of disease, injury and ageing. Stem cells from embryos may provide the holy grail of medicine. And patents are necessary to protect and stimulate invention and investment in today’s world of medical research. Without patents in Europe, the research will wither – or emigrate to the US bring the health and economic benefits to the US.

Why is ES cell research so important?

Cells are the “lego” blocks that make up the human body. Disease and age cause our cells to die and, generally, the body cannot replace them. Stem cells from embryos are very special building blocks. They can turn into any body part of the body. They can be used to replace dead or damaged cells, tissues or organs.

As few as 5% of the organs needed to kidney failure ever become available. Every day people die on transplant waiting lists before organs become available. Stem cells might offer these people hope.

There are also problems when a doctor puts an organ from one person into a different person. The body tries to reject the organ which it sees as “foreign”. Drugs are used to damp down the body’s reaction to the foreign tissue. These drugs have serious side effects. It may be possible to engineer tissue from embryonic stem cells so doctors don’t need to use these drugs.

Most importantly, embryonic stem cells may allow transplantation to be used to treat common diseases like heart attack, Alzheimer’s Disease, diabetes, Parkinson’s Disease and stroke. 

After a stroke, the dead part of the brain is replaced by scar tissue. This scar holds the brain together but that part of the brain and its function are lost. It may be possible in the future to embryonic stem cells to produce brain tissue to replace the damaged brain tissue. The choice is ours: new bits of brain, new heart, new liver or a long painful wait for someone to donate an organ? 

Stem cells are revolutionizing medicine. All our children, or their children, may be the beneficiaries. Given the benefits, why the ban on ES cell patents? Afterall, patents are a part of modern medical research to ensure that

A Moral Problem?

The problem is that these cells are made by destroying an unwanted embryo. An embryo that might have produced a baby. Is it right that an embryo dies so that children and adults may live?

Embryos die everyday. And we deliberately destroy them. The IUD and morning after pill destroy embryos. An excess of embryos is produced during in vitro fertilisation to prevent women having extra cycles of egg harvesting that pose risks to their health.
Thousands of embryos from IVF are destroyed in the UK every year. Instead of becoming “biowaste” these embryos could be used to produce embryonic stem cells.

Embryos also perish naturally. Only about 1/3 of embryos ever produce a baby. If embryos did not perish the world’s population would soon be five times its present level. Human beings would destroy themselves and their planet.

Up to about 100,000 fetuses are aborted each year in Australia, some of which are used for research and the treatment of medical conditions. Surely then we can use cells from a embryo which will otherwise be flushed down the sink. 

Conservative Europeans have not been able to ban ES cell research but this is their attempt to close it down by the back door by claiming it is industrialization of human life. But surely it is morally preferable to develop medical treatments (indeed, the most treatments possible) from embryos rather than simply destroying because they are “surplus to IVF” demands,

This ruling imposes the narrow, conservative view of a section of Europe on all Europeans. But more importantly, it does at great cost to their lives and health – we will all suffer, though we won’t know it, from the moral decision of the European Court of Justice.

This is a return to the days when public morals were enforced on society. In those days, it was the evil of homosexuality that required a ban on homosexuality. Today it is the conservative, predominantly Catholic view of the moral status of the embryo.

We had the opportunity to take moral lead and publicly acknowledge that the destruction of embryos for good research is better than their destruction for no good purpose.
 
Creating embryos for research?

What about producing embryos for research or medical treatment? Imagine a child develops leukemia. She will die without a bone marrow transplant. No compatible donor can be found.

If we used therapeutic cloning were perfected, we could take a healthy skin cell and use cloning to produce embryonic stem cells could be used to make healthy bone marrow to cure her. It would be her own bone marrow. She would never need drugs to prevent rejection. Would  this be ethical?

Time to face our hypocrisy. If an embryo is a person which it is wrong to kill, we better prevent all abortion and post-coital contraception. But if these practices are acceptable, as most people believe they are, we have implicitly rejected the idea that an embryo is a microscopic person.

An embryo is more like a bunch of building blocks that form the foundations of what may one day be a house. But it is not yet a house, much less a home. If we allow abortion in our society, we should allow the creation of embryonic stem cells for the treatment of disease and injury.

The European Court of Justice has no business enforcing an arguably false view of the moral status of the embryo. It has no business retarding the research for the sake of the morals of a few influential, self-appointed moralists.

 

 

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56 Responses to Ban on ES Cell Patents Deeply Immoral

  • Julian,

    I haven't read the entire ruling carefully yet, so I'm a bit unsure about how much of Judge Bot's preliminary ruling from earlier this year is reproduced in the European Court's decision. That ruling was a mess and is surely is hit by many the arguments you bring forward here, and I criticised it myself in much the same way <a href="http://philosophicalcomment.blogspot.com/2011/04/bad-arguments-on-all-sides-in-european.html">here</a&gt;. But the arguments used by Bot are not visible in the actual <i>conclusions</i> of the court. These mainly says that stem cell lines fall under certain exclusion statutes in European patent law. Now, these statutes may very well be immoral, faulty and so on, but that does not necessarily make the court's <i>ruling</i> such – courts should after all apply the law as it is.

    One thing I myself am a bit skeptical about, though, is the repeated claim that if stem cell lines cannot be patented, then pharma and other commercial companies who need to get involved to realise the therapeutic potentials of stem cell research will be unable to carry out that work due to lack of commercial protection of the huge R&D investments that this would involve. This is often said both in this case, but also with regard to genomic medicine and the patenting of genes. But is it true? Is there really no other way of securing the necessary commercial protection (in the genomics case, there certainly is)? What are the arguments? It is not sufficient to point out that patenting cell lines would provide such protection, since that does not prove patenting such lines to be a necessary condition. Of course, a few individuals who had hoped to strike rich by holding stem cell line patents will not do that and are understandably disappointed, but that is not much of an argument with regard to the possibilities of alternative routes. I rather think that, as in the case of genomics research, after the initial disappointment has cooled off, researchers and pharma people will become creative and find other ways of ensuring commercial protection for the therapeutic products that may eventually see the light of day.

  • Julian Savulescu says:

    Thanks Christian. What methods besides patents do you specifically propose to protect and encourage invention and investment? It may well be that researchers find a way to sidestep the ban by patenting other aspects of the technology (I think one eye researcher has patented placement techniques of stem cells) but that just shows that we don't really accept a true and full ban on patenting. Also, I can't imagine the scientists would be so angry if there were effective alternatives to patenting. And even if there are, this does not address the moral point that the ban is totally inappropriate on the alleged moral grounds.

  • Matt Sharp says:

    I find this rather confusing. What on Earth are Greenpeace doing by getting involved with this? I thought they were supposed to be an environmental justice movement? Which leads me to think that they are not opposed to the use of embryos in research per se, but rather that they are opposed to the patenting of human cells to benefit private companies, and then decided that the most effective way to bring in legislation on this issue would be to argue about the immoral use of embryos. Perhaps I'm wrong, but it certainly seems to fit more with their ideology to take action to ensure knowledge from biological research remains in the public sector.

    A seperate point: will this actually have as much of an impact as scientists claim? What about induced pluripotent stem cells? My understanding was that these could potentially do everything embryonic stem cells can do; if so, then surely it is better to go down the route of using iPSCs, which are ethically much less controversial that ESCs?

    • Peter Wicks says:

      On your first point, I think you're right: Greenpeace's primary motivation here is probably anti-corporation. But it's also a case of technophobia. That said, Julian's description of them as "self-appointed ethical conscience" is a bit of a stretch. Fact is they represent a significant political constituency. Unfortunately it is a constituency that tends to conflate caring for the environment with anti-technology and anti-business sentiment.

  • Julian Savulescu says:

    Greenpeace and other environmental movements have become the self-appointed ethical conscience in many European countries such as Germany. This is because of the vacuum of an organised secular morality or set of values. iPS cells won't do the trick at present – ES cell research is still required.

    • Matt Sharp says:

      Hi Julian,

      Could you expand on that last point? What have ESCs been shown to do that iPSCs can't do? Just going on the wikipedia article on iPSCs, it seems they have very similar traits; though iPSCs may be more tumorigenic.

    • Peter Wicks says:

      "This is because of the vacuum of an organised secular morality or set of values."

      I would put this slightly differently. I would rather say, "This is because of the lack of realistic but positive visions of the future." I think part of what drives this kind of nonsense (i.e. banning patenting of stem cell research) is fear of the future. For many, the world is becoming weird and dangerous, and the temptation then is to fall back on religion, authority and fantasy. We need to give people a more realistic and progressive source of hope and comfort.

      • Matt Sharp says:

        I agree with this, and your above comment. I do think it is understandable that people, especially older people, are scared of what technology can do. The advances have been so fast that it is very easy to feel completely disconnected from a society if you do not, or have not, been able to share in technological advances such as the internet (usually through lack of education/fear of the unknown). I guess the opposition to technology is strongest in areas involving biology, where there is still fairly strong support for ideas such as the unchanging 'natural law' of Thomas Aquinas et al.

  • Well, a therapeutic procedure would involve many, many things and processes besides the actual cell, or some substance produced by it: methods for administering it effectively and safely, having it taken up properly, finding its way to the right place, being processed and received by the body as intended, initiating the planned function, et cetera. Presumably some or some clusters of these would be patentable (if not already protected). In any case, hESC scientists need to get creative here, in the same way as European genomics scientists have done. To answer your other question, my reading of the rage is that, actually, it seems that almost everyone has been focused on only one option, the one now disarmed by the EC. Also, in some cases, there are some pretty substantial vested interests involved, and perhaps these two have been interacting a bit. But let the future decide this, I say. If good people get to work, as I am sure they will very soon, the answer will be forthcoming, I'm sure.

    • Peter Wicks says:

      I love this comment. It leads to the intriguing possibility that the ECJ ruling may turn out to have done more good than harm, albeit based on totally flawed reasoning, by stimulating creativity and new research directions. That gives me hope and comfort…

  • I haven't read the preceding judgements, but have had a brief read of this one. It seems that a very expansive interpretation of 'human embryo' has been used when it would surely have been open to the Court to use a less all encompassing one in order to allow member states a margin of appreciation in their interpretation of the 'ordre public' clause of the directive (given the widely differing approach to the embryo across the member states).

    This aside I am slightly confused/bemused by the second substantive part of the judgement [para. 53(2)] which says:

    "The exclusion from patentability concerning the use of human embryos for industrial or commercial purposes set out in Article 6(2)(c) of Directive 98/44 also covers the use of human embryos for purposes of scientific research, <b> only use for therapeutic or diagnostic purposes which are applied to the human embryo and are useful to it being patentable.<b>"

    Is this to be interpreted as allowing patents where the process is for the therapeutic or diagnostic benefit of that particular embryo? Or therapeutic or diagnostic use on any embryo?

    If the former then how is one to develop these therapeutic or diagnostic processes without first going through the non-patentable scientific processes in which these get developed (if that makes sense)?

    If the latter then if the therapeutic or diagnostic purpose is one which can be applied to any embryo, why not one that can be applied to any entity more developed than the embryo (e.g. adult humans)?

    The wording is slightly odd, perhaps something was lost in translation, was the original judgement in English?

    Text of judgement available here for those interested: http://tinyurl.com/5uqok6w

    • While the ethical basis of this judgment is clearly disputed, to take issue with the scope of the legal/scientific definition of the embryo could only be done by someone who at the same time disputed the scope of the definition used in the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 2008, which was the result of unprecedented scientific involvement at that time. While I was critical of the permissiveness of that act, I acknowledged the careful drafting of the definitions (both of the human embryo and of various forms of human admixed embryos). Perhaps dispiuting the scope of the definition may be open to a scientist in a jurisdiction with sloppy legislation in this area, but I cannot see how this avenue of dispute could be open to someone in this country. Technically it could be tried but I imagine a fair minded person would judge this to be a case of specially pleading.

      It is noteworthy that, at the time of Bot's opinion the government confirmed that his wide definition was consistent with the HFEAct 1990 (as amended).

      http://www.theyworkforyou.com/wrans/?id=2011-03-30a.269.3&s=section%3Awrans+speaker%3A13103#g269.4

  • Julian Savulescu says:

    Indeed if the second, future embryos may become future persons who would benefit from this research. If you believe the embryo is identical with the future person, this interpretation should allow patenting of any es cell research. There is no reason to discriminate against benefits that occur at different times of an entity's life

  • Lola Heavey says:

    Bishops have described the judgment of the ECJ as,

    “…a milestone in the protection of Human life in EU legislation, that will most likely have a positive impact in concrete policy fields like the funding of research in the EU.”

    http://churchandstate.org.uk/2011/10/roman-catholic-bishops-applaud-ban-on-embryonic-stem-cell-patents/

  • Julian Savulescu says:

    Well, it must be right then.
    Thanks for putting the political aspect of this into sharp focus.

  • Lola Heavey says:

    I hope you don't mind but I have taken the liberty of putting your article on my site. It is the best I have read and people should be made aware that "we will all suffer, though we won’t know it". I find it amazing that in the 21st century a judge can feel so confident to make such a ruling. Thank you.
    http://churchandstate.org.uk/2011/10/ban-on-embryonic-stem-cell-patents-deeply-immoral/

  • Julian Savulescu says:

    Thanks. It is arbitrary irrational moral authoritarianism. Is use of the IUD and oral contraceptive, not to mention abortion, also contrary to public order? I also liked Peter Wicks' analysis of Greenpeace's motivations.

  • Khalid Jan says:

    Julian, thanks for the piece. Yes, the Roman Catholic Church is pretty much involved in controlling the research (1), but, the other main players are the pharmaceutical industry. Imagine that tomorrow people with diseases are getting cured using this new stem cell therapy. What will happen to the pharma industry that is in the business of prolonging life by selling expensive drugs? Let's further imagine that you are the CEO of one of the leading drug manufacturers. You find out that some scientist(s) are working on a permanent cure for Alzheimer using the stem cells. What would you do? Would you confront them directly or would you rather find an alternative method of confrontation? As for the decision by the European Court of Justice, could it be that the decision was somehow influenced by the conviction of the Korean stem cell researcher Woo Suk Hwang? (http://www.nature.com/news/2006/060109/full/news060109-8.html). The entire issue appears to be much more complex than what we see with our simplistic lens. There are very powerful forces who possess the power to make decisions. Left are the crumbs for us to fight over.

    1. http://www.arirang.co.kr/News/News_View.asp?nseq=30066&code=Ne5&category=5

    • Matt Sharp says:

      I'm not sure. Pharma stands to benefit from research using stem cells, as the knowledge gained in working out the complexities of cell biology and gene function will allow development of (quite costly) personalised medicine. And only limiting work on embryonic stem cells is not going to help them in the long-run; adult stem cells, and induced pluripotent stem cells stand to achieve the same success as embryonic stem cells, even if research would be faster without any limitations. In fact, so far, adult stem cells have a track record of success that ESCs lack.

  • Julian Cockbain says:

    The comments of Christian Munthe on this blog are deeply appreciated.

    The ECJ decision in Brüstle v. Greenpeace relates to the morality of the commercial exploitation of inventions based on human embryonic stem cell research, and hence their appropriateness for the state imprimatur of a patent. The decision is not concerned with the morality of stem cell research as such, nor with abortion, contraception, or whatever – to suggest otherwise is to misunderstand what is at issue. Actions may be perfectly acceptable in a non-commercial context, yet deemed inappropriate in a commercial context, e.g. sex or organ 'donation'.

    Patent Offices and Courts in Europe are required to consider morality when it comes to patentability – however inexperienced or unqualified they are – as the laws insist upon it. Moreover, any interested party, Greenpeace or whoever, is entitled to question whether a patent should be granted on moral grounds. Sorry, that is the law we have.

    The key points of the ECJ decision are (1) that is based on the concept of human dignity as an obligation rather than a right (cf the French dwarf-chucking case), and (2) whether the chain of moral complicity between an act deemed non-acceptable in a commercial context and an invention based upon that act can be broken enabling that invention to be patented. On the second point, the ECJ closed the deposit loophole opened by the European Patent Office's decision on hES cells in G-2/06 Use of embryos/WARF which suggested that the chain of complicity could be broken. The ECJ decided that it couldn't. Given that much modern medicine is ultimately founded on actions that might now be considered to be immoral, the implications of this decision are immense. The suggestion that pharma will move elsewhere is simply a scare-mongering red herring.

    I'm based in Oxford, and am more than happy to engage in a discussion on this issue with you.

    • Hi Julian C,

      you are absolutely right about the topic of the ruling, and when I blogged about judge Bot's preliminary ruling earlier this year, I also pointed out that much of the reactions from hESC researchers missed the point by conflating this topic with a general ethical discussion about hESC research. Some comments below from David Albert Jones seems to miss this distinction as well.

      For instance, it would seem that that the ruling is perfectly compatible with states developing hESC therapies using public money and waiving all claims to commercial protection.

      The problem I found with Bot's preliminary ruling, however, was not about this or about using the notion of human dignity or the idea that some moral principle based on that takes the form of an obligation pertaining to patentability. The problem was that he assumed rather than demonstrated that state-protected (though patents) commercial use of products coming out of the destruction of human embryos goes against "ordre publique". His only argument was a very weak analogy between commercial use of hESC lines and organised murder of born people for the purpose of organ theft for commercial purposes. This analogy assumes rather than proves what needs to be demonstrated. As I said, I haven't had time yet to read carefully the argumentation in the final ruling of the court, so I cannot say at this moment whether or not this problem reappears there.

      I agree with you on the potential practical ramifications. It becomes especially serious if the chain of complicity is taken to include not only chains of material causation (from embryo to cell-line), but also causal chains for the production of knowledge and further material products developed out of that (from hESC research to knowledge that could be the basis of new drugs not themselves containing any hESC lines).

      • An additional thing. I think that Muireann's comment above points to a potential way forward if some would dare (and have the energy) to press a patent through in spite of the ruling. After all, Bot's arguments in his preliminary ruling pressed hard for applying the concept of human dignity to embryos mainly by applying classic potentiality arguments…..

      • Julian Cockbain says:

        In SCRIPTed 7(1), 83-103 (2010), we commented that we thought it unlikely that the chain could be broken where materials were concerned but that, absent collaboration, it probably could if only information was concerned

      • Thank you for reminding people of the limited scope of this ruling. Clearly it does not prevent governments from permitting such research. It does not prevent goverments, trusts, companies or individuals from funding this research. It does not even prevent Europe from funding this research through FP7 funding (though there is a curious tension, to say the least, between allowing European funding but not allowing patents). It does not prevent companies from profitting in many ways from the use of human embryo. It affects only a limited range of ways in which profits may be protected, by patent law. This has not been clear at all in most of the media coverage.

        Nevertheless, even though lawyers are devising ways to aviod the impact of this legislation (Alex Denoon has a nice little list here: http://www.sciencemediacentre.co.nz/2011/10/19/europe-rules-out-stem-cell-patents-experts-respond/) this does not show that the ruling is of little significance. It represents the application of a fairly minimal principle, that the Courts should not offer the assistance of patent protection to the industrial or commercial use of human embryos. This is a very low standard of protection, but in a limited way it expresses the ethical view that commercial exploitation of human embryos is contrary to human dignity.

        I think the outrage of hESC scientists is not only because of a threat to their financial interests (though this is a factor) but it is outrage against the implied moral criticism. This is evident also on a number of blogs, not least this one. Even if the ECJ judgment had no effect at all on practice or profits it would still provoke a reaction because people wish not only to use human embryos but to escape all hint of moral criticism. This is the same reason it is welcomed by those who wish the embryo had greater moral recognition.

  • There are so many unsubstantiated claims in Professor Savulescu's piece it is difficult to know where to start. There is no mention of alternative sources of stem cell: amniotic, cord blood, corneal, olfactory, bone marrow, many of which are currently being tested in clinical trials (I recently met a man with a company that uses adipose tissue from liposuction and extracts progenitor cells for therapy). Of course cutting edge in this area is neither embryonic nor adult stem cells but induced pluripotent stem cells iPSCs. Even in the UK, which has something of an obsession with embryonic stem cells (partly in the hope of capitalising on past success with IVF and cloning) more funds goes into adult and iPS than embryonic stem cell research. Why? Simply because these are more interesting scientifically. Embryonic stem cells are politically and perhaps ethically interesting, but they are not the most scientifically or commercially interesting. Newer better sources of stem cells will not be adversely effected by the ECJ ruling, they may be indirectly benefitted.

    Professor Savulescu writes as though everyone agreed that the embryo has no moral importance, I suspect this view is implicit in UK public policy, but even in the UK, which is among the most permissive countries in the world with regard to using human embryos in research, the embryo is alleged to have a "special status" such that non-embryonic means of attaining the same goal should be preferred. In most of Europe the status of the embryo has a greater status than this and it is the view of Professor Savulescu that is in the minority. This is not of course sufficient as an argument, for majorities are frequently wrong, but it shows that Professor Savulescu mischaracterises this as the effect of a religious minority. It was not a religious group who took this case.

    Ironically, those lawyers who represent the interests of stem cell researchers (such as Julian Hitchcock and Alex Denoon) are advising that the effect of this case need not be as catastrophic as the media is presenting, and indeed caution that the biggest danger of disinvestment is the exaggerated overreaction of which Professor Savulescu's is a good example. So I suppose I should thank Professor Savulescu for endangering investment in embryonic stem cell companies. However, I would prefer honesty to good consequences (I am not a utilitarian) and I would prefer more balanced reporting of this story.

    My hope is that this ECJ judgment, though fairly minimal in its effects, will act positively as a nudge away from research that presupposes the destruction of human emrbyos and towards more ethical and more effective forms of stem cell research.

    Lastly thank you to Julain Cockbain who seems the only contributer to this blog to understand the rationale of this decision.

  • Julian Savulescu says:

    David Albert Jones claims: "Of course cutting edge in this area is neither embryonic nor adult stem cells but induced pluripotent stem cells iPSCs. Even in the UK, which has something of an obsession with embryonic stem cells (partly in the hope of capitalising on past success with IVF and cloning) more funds goes into adult and iPS than embryonic stem cell research. Why? Simply because these are more interesting scientifically. Embryonic stem cells are politically and perhaps ethically interesting, but they are not the most scientifically or commercially interesting. Newer better sources of stem cells will not be adversely effected by the ECJ ruling, they may be indirectly benefitted."

    The claim that we don't need ES cell research now because iPS cell research makes it obsolete is common to prolife groups. Josephine Quintavalle articulated on Sunday in a debate on BBC on this topic that I engaged in. It is false. See: http://www.hsci.harvard.edu/frequently-asked-questions which describes the ES cell as still the gold standard. Whatever the merits of iPS cell research, we still don't have safe and effective therapies and until that point, we need to pursue both lines of research. The reasons for not engaging in ES cell research are not scientific, though those who ethically object to it present it misleading as such.

    The European Court ruling was clearly a moral decision as it singled out ES cells for a patenting ban, not other kinds of stem cells. If the objection were to patenting life forms, then other stem cells should have been banned. They weren't and that shows that basis of this decision is controversial, difficult to justify view of the moral status of the embryo.

    • Julian Cockbain says:

      Sorry, Julian S, the ECJ didn't single out hES cells, the biotech directive singled out human embryos. They were bound by the directive which doesn't ban patents on other, non-totipotent human cells

  • Julian Cockbain says:

    After the EPO's Enlarged Board of Appeal decision in G-2/06 Use of embryos/WARF, the ECJ's decision that Brustle's patent was invalid was pretty much a foregone conclusion. The supremely interesting thing about the ECJ's decision is that it closes the 'deposit loophole' left by the WARF decision and raises the question as to how a chain of moral complicity can be broken, if at all, to leave an invention founded on an act deemed immoral in a commercial context nonetheless patentable. "Trust me I'm a patent attorney"

  • Khalid Jan says:

    Vatican Stem Cell Endeavor With US Company In Full Swing
    "The Vatican's adult stem cell venture with a U.S. biopharmecutical firm continues to gain momentum since the partnership between the two was announced in June."

    http://www.ewtn.com/vnews/getstory.asp?number=115944

  • With respect, if you read my post, I claimed that "most" stem cell research is not embryonic. This is an empircal claim. It could be quantified either by proportion of research funding or by proportion of PRJ publication. I may be wrong in this claim but if so I would be happy to be corrected.

    I also claimed that iPS research was "cutting edge" and "more interesting scientifically ". I freely admit that this is a value judgment that is more difficult to justify but some evidence may be adduced, for example, that Drs. Thomson and Yamanaka shared the 2011 King Faisal International Prize in Medicine for their pioneering work in this area. Perhaps it would be more defensible to say that I find this the most interesting scientific work (purely as science) in this area, and I know that some people agree with me. (Though it is interesting science I should add that I am sceptical of claims for imminent therapeutic breakthroughs using these cells. In my understanding, there primary use is as a research tool.)

    Professor Savulescu then discusses the claim that "we don’t need ES cell research now because iPS cell research makes it obsolete". I presume he is not attributing this claim to me. I did not make such a claim and I do not think it is well-formulated. My point (if you read what I wrote) was that Professor Savulescu seems to have neglected to mention an important part of the context: the great quantity of stem cell research that is not embryonic.

    The ECJ decision was, as Professor Savulescu rightly points out, a decision based on ethical considerations – the Court followed the European Parliament in considering the commercial or industrial use of human embryos a step too far. This is controversial in the sense that people disagree about it, but that would also be true of the opposite opinion, that human embryos should be available for commercial use. We must do ethics even if our ethical judgments do not command universal assent. Otherwise we would be ethcially paralysed.

    My hope, as I have repeated on a number of occasions, is that the effect of this judgment will be to act as a "nudge" encouraging companies to invest in forms of research that do not presuppose the destruction of human embryos (this is the reason for mentioning the existence of other avenues of research). This is not because we know what research we need, for this will never be true. It is rather that we should prefer avenues of research that are both interesting/promising and ethical.

    The ECJ's actions represent the influence of an ethical view on commercial transactions. I appreciate that Professor Savulescu disagrees with the particular ethical judgment on which they rely, because he belongs to a different tradition of moral philosophy. Nevertheless, perhaps he would agree that free market economics (and patent law) should be circumscribed by some ethical considerations, even if he may think that in this case the Court (and the European Parliament) is mistaken in its ethical reasoning.

  • Sandra Alvarez MD says:

    The European Court of Justice made a startling, controversial but correct decision. Anyone or any group that tries to save the innocent and voiceless– should be commended.

    The are two important questions–only two. If you answer them for yourself yes or no,. This will be an answer free of politics and interest groups.

    1. Is life important?
    My answer is yes. Yes–that is why we do everything to save people–even if they are 90 and have multiple chronic problems– we use every measure possible to save life. Yes- that is why we save babies 28 weeks and earlier that are easily and routinely aborted as a method of birth control. There are a lot of methods out there to prevent pregnancy.
    We even value the life of animals and to a large degree- we try to save the cat stuck in tree and the dog that has fallen into well.

    We value and honor life–period.

    2. Is it right to kill one person to save another?
    No is my answer.

    Is saving the life of a 50 year old more important than saving an infant? No it is not. No matter how each political side wants to portray it, life begins at conception– a unique blend of the DNA is made– making a unique individual like no other on the planet.
    If an individual decides to sacrifice themselves to save their child or someone else–then that is fine, they have made a choice.

    Other points to support 1. and 2.

    If you agree that life and protecting life and saving lives is important, then your complete argument about research on embryonic stem cells is null.

    To kill one life to extend another is wrong– it does not matter how one tries to rationalize it.

    An important point that many people do not consider-

    Woman have babies every day, stem cells from the umbilical cord could be used for this research. They are embryonic, they are plentiful and using them does not involve killing. It is that simple. These cells are in abundance. Why does no one look at the easy, non-politically charged answers?

    It is my opinion that there must be another motive or agenda- a political one on its face, but a deeper more comleplex motive .

    n.b. you cannot patent and own the DNA of another person. That is akin to slavery.

    • Matt Sharp says:

      Regarding point 1, yes, life is important. But sentience and personhood are more important.

      That's why we think it's ok to eat plants, and to kill cancer cells, and to take antibiotics when we're ill. It's ok to kill some forms of life in order to preserve others, because we value some forms of life more than others. So your statement that "To kill one life to extend another is wrong– it does not matter how one tries to rationalize it." is absurd.

      Therefore, even though everyone agree that embryos are living, that does not mean they are entitled to the same protection we grant to sentient beings including people. If they were entitled to the same protection purely on grounds of being alive, then we must stop killing plants for food, stop taking drugs to kill cancer cells, and not take antibiotics.

      • Julian Cockbain says:

        The issue is not protection but respect, ie human dignity. Read Sterckx's article on the WARF case in IPQ 2008

        • Matt Sharp says:

          Ok? I'm simply responding to what Sandra has written. She didn't say anything about human dignity, so neither did I.

        • Thank you Julian. This is an important point – in English-speaking bioethics the discussion tends to be about personhood, understood primarily in Lockean terms, and protection understood in relation to "offenses against the person". This is true to a large extent of both sides of the debate (defenders of the personal status of the embryo as much as utilitarians): if the embryo is not a person then the only issue remaining seems to be consideration of the feelings of those who object. The concept of "dignity" is seldom invoked in these debates and less understood. In contrast German and other schools of moral and politcial thought rountinely apply human dignity more broadly than personhood, and use it to do real moral work. I think we suffer in this country from an impoverished range of moral concepts and this in part explains the lack of comprehension with which many people have greeted this ECJ judgment.

      • Sandra Alvarez MD says:

        Mr. Sharp I respectfully disagree. I was overall talking about human life. I threw in the part about other animals only to show that we have a great deal of compassion as human beings. I was not talking about all forms of life- plants, fungi, etc. that exist on this planet.

        I simplified my points on purpose. An embryo is a unique Human Life.

        If in your view only certain types of human life are worth saving—Who makes that choice? What are the criteria for making that choice and who decides that?

        Who is the authority in your view? What types of persons deserve to live in your view?

        It okay with you to kill embryos, because they might not be wanted—in your view -Why is killing an infant a crime?

        Is it the timing that is the issue for you?– one cell stage at conception, or 28 week premature infant or 6 month old— or a 90 year old senile person? Where should that line be drawn and who draws it.

        Is it really to help others? We need to save those with Parkinson's- — so it is okay to kill an unwanted embryo? Other cell lines are out there that could be used but are not–so why all the controversy about " embryos"–it is political.

        I certainly would not want to make the decision of whose life is worthy and whose is not.

        How do you define " Personhood" and "Sentience"– we would need a definition then– to ensure who got help and who didn't.

        I worked in an neonatal intensive care unit — helping to save premature infants–we didn' t call them embryos–many before 28 weeks,many with great outcomes. If you look at a 23 week old or a 28 week old– maybe they would not seem worth saving at that point, especially when others abort their own at similar ages–depending on where you live.

        It makes no sense.

        • Matt Sharp says:

          I'll try to address some of your points later, when I have more time.

          However, I'll simply ask you your own questions, with a little modification:

          If in your view only certain types of *life* are worth saving—Who makes that choice? What are the criteria for making that choice and who decides that? Why only stick to *human* life?

          If you want to consider only human life, I did give the example of cancer cells, which, like embryos, are forms of unique human life. Why is it ok to destroy one form of unique human life (cancer), but not another (embryo)?

          • Sandra Alvarez MD says:

            Mr Sharp,
            1. I do not think only certain types of human life are worth saving. I think they are all worth saving- or attempting to save. I did not become a physician so that I would pick and choose who should live and who should not. No one should make that decision.
            2. A cancer cell is not like an embryo. A cancer cell IS NOT A FORM OF UNIQUE HUMAN LIFE. A CANCER CELL IS A MUTATED CELL- OF THE ORIGINAL AND THUS A DAMAGED VERSION OF THE ORIGINAL DNA. It can reproduce but does not and cannot become an individual–it is a mutated/broken version of the original DNA.
            2a If a person has a form of cancer that will kill them. Removing the cancer cells can sometimes save the individual. In that case destroying the cancer is warranted.
            3. I am discussing Human Life- because the original blog post regarded embryonic stem cells taken from embryos- in the process- killing the embyro. I would be happy to discuss other forms of life, but think that is irrelevant, when we are talking about this issue.
            Mr. Sharp I am not sure what your field of expertise is– you might need to brush up on your Molecular Biology. I have never heard anyone use the term–" unique human life– to describe a tumor or a cancer cell" — that is absurd Mr. Sharp.

          • Matt Sharp says:

            Which part of 'unique human life' does not apply to a cancer cell? It doesn't really matter whether someone has applied this term to cancer before or not.

            It is 'life', in the sense of doing and being all the things usually required for something to be considered alive.

            It is genetically unique, in the sense that it contains DNA sequences only found in the whole organism which it exists, as well as mutations which make it distinct from the 'normal' cells of the organism.

            If the cancer is human in origin, then it is human.

            Thus, by choosing to kill cancer cells, you are choosing to kill unique human life in order to protect another form of human life (the whole individual). That is because a whole, sentient personl is worth more than non-sentient cancer cells.

          • Matt Sharp says:

            1. Well, that's me told then.

            2. I know a fair bit about molecular biology and genetics, and have the qualifications to prove it. Thanks for asking though.

            3. So? I didn't claim that most people applied the term 'unique human life' to cancer. I'm simply arguing that it is; not whether people describe it as such.

            4. If something is living then it is alive. I didn't claim DNA was alive. Cancer cells, like all other forms of life, can only survive in a particular environment. How is that different from any other form of life? Embryos can only survive and form people in particular environment. If being in that environment was never a possibility for them, then they have lost nothing.

            5. I didn't claim cancer was a human 'being'. But your original claim wasn't that only human *beings* had value, but rather that all human *life* had value. Now you're changing your claim so that not all human *life* has equal value, but only human *beings*. If you're going to make this claim, then, just as you asked me to define 'personhood', you're going to have to define 'human being'.

        • Khalid Jan says:

          Dr. Alvarez, thanks for your enlightened reflections. What do you think about the role of the mother in the entire 'embryo' affair? Is she simply a 'container'? What if she decides that it is not in the best interest of the Fetus to exist as a future person – assuming that her 'mental health' is 'sound'? Would you, as an 'healthcare' professional, respect and honor her right to have an abortion?

          • Sandra Alvarez MD says:

            Mr. Sharp, I again completely disagree with your argument. I understand what point you are trying to make, but your arguments are not logical and not based on truth or fact.

            To answer your questions in turn.
            1. Every part of a "Unique Human Life" does NOT apply to a cancer cell Mr. Sharp. You are wrong.
            2. I am disinclined to argue with you about whether someone has applied the term " unique human life" to a cancer cell before. It is a waste of my time to argue with someone who knows little about the basic science behind this. I do not have time to educate you Mr. Sharp. You can go study this– not in philosophy, but in Molecular Biology- and Genetics that is where the answers to this are. So go read.
            3.Your third sentence again- wrong. A single cancer cell does not embody " life" as it is meant when people say " unique human life". Wrong again.
            4. Yes a cancer cell is unique genetically – being caused by a genetic mutation of the original DNA.
            However, unique mutated DNA does not have a life of its own, nor can it become an individual. Having DNA does not equal life, DNA are the building blocks of life, but it is the individual that has "life". Living ( Life) and alive are not the same thing– this is something you need to understand.
            A cancer cell may be living when it is in its host and until it kills its host but then it dies along with the individual, in which the cancerous tumor was formed.
            5. You state " if a cancer cell is human in origin then it is human". You are talking in circles. Yes a cancer cell is of human origin, it does not mean that it is a human being and can have a life of its own.
            A cancer cell- with mutated DNA is not the same as a unique individual life/ a unique individual human being–it is not a unique individual–that is the point. The DNA is unique and it can be alive for a time in a host, but does not and cannot exist on its own or create a person.
            6. Your summation, "Thus, by choosing to kill cancer cells, you are choosing to kill unique human life in order to protect another form of human life (the whole individual)." Wrong again. Cancer cells cannot become unique human beings—ever. SO DESTROYING CANCER CELLS CAN IN NOT WAY BE EQUATED WITH KILLING EMBYRONIC PROGENITOR CELLS- BECAUSE EMBRYONIC PROGENITOR CELLS DO MAKE -UNIQUE HUMAN BEINGS. A TUMOR IS NOT EQUAL TO A BABY MR. SHARP.

            Nothing you said makes any sense.

            I do not care to discuss this with you further. Your point of view is skewed and illogical and not based on science. You cannot use science to argue when you do not have an understanding of the science you are using. It merely demonstrates you ignorance.

  • Julian Cockbain says:

    Sorry Dr Alvarez, but you can patent the DNA of someone else. Maybe you shouldn't be able to, but you can. See AMP v USPTO, the Federal Circuit decision from July this year for example.

    • Sandra Alvarez MD says:

      Thanks's for the information Mr. Cockbain. That is very disturbing.
      Dr. S

      • Julian Cockbain says:

        It gets worse. Just look at John Moore v Regents of the University of California. Patents and morality are uneasy bedfellows. That's why the ECJ decision is so heartening.

  • Julian Cockbain says:

    Morality and patents sit uncomfortably together, not just with hES cell research but in other arenas, including your (js's) pet topic of enhancement. Do you want to debate the subject at one of your occasional lunchtime seminars?

  • Khalid Jan says:

    'Deadly Monopolies'? Patenting The Human Body

    The Shocking Corporate Takeover of Life Itself—and the Consequences for Your Health and Our Medical Future
    by Harriet A. Washington
    Hardcover 443 pages

    Review on:
    http://www.npr.org/2011/10/24/141429392/deadly-monopolies-patenting-the-human-body

  • Sandra Alvarez MD says:

    Hello Mr Jan,

    I will try and answer your questions. It may be a little long.

    What do I think is the role of the mother?
    I will tell you my personal view first.
    I would not allow my ova/potential child of mine,to be used in experiements of any kind. I would not sell my ova/potential child of mine. to be used in experients of any kind. I have four wonderful, troublemaking and loving children. I wouldn't let anyone perform experiments on them either– they would have a serious fight on their hands if they tried to.

    The whole idea of using your potential offspring for scienctific experimentation is deeply troubling. I consider it highly unethical to use what would be someone's child to generate cell lines for another purpose. It does not matter how good the intentions are. It does not matter what disease it is for. There are many other pluripotent cells available that could be used without destoying an embryo.

    I think one should always err on the side of protecting life. That is the nature of most human beings– to protect themselves, their loved ones, and many times complete strangers–policemen and woman, nurses, firemen and woman, good samaritans who happen to be there– and save someone from harm at just the right time.

    It does not matter what the wishes of the parents are to me, with regard to donating the zygote/or embyro to research. That embryo at whatever stage–would want to live, just as those people who have illnesses that they want a cure for, hope to continue living.

    Destroying life, can never– in my view be justified to save another. The only exception in my view is if that person gives their consent– such as organ and tissue donors. An embryo cannot give its consent.

    If a woman of sound mind did not think that her child should exist, she should not have gotten pregnant in the first place. If she has an abortion, that is her burden to carry for the rest of her life. It is not a decision that should be made lightly. Many women who have abortions are not properly counseled, they grieve and many become depressed.

    I recently participated in an Adoption. I went to see a newborn girl in the hospital, and her biological mother had chosen a family to give her to, as she knew she could not afford to care for her. The biological mother was a young woman. It was a very impressive and humbling experience to be a part of that process. The biological mother gave her daughter to a family that could not have a child. The biological mother also selected the family that her daughter would be raised by. The religion of the adoptive parents and other factors played a role. The adoptive parents, honored the biological mother–using one of her family names as the infant girl's middle name.

    I cannot imagine how difficult that must have been for her, to carry her daughter for nearly 10 months ( the books lie– it is not 9 months), and she decided that she should live, and in a good, stable home of her choosing.

    I understand all the arguments – the health of the mother, rape and incest– these are very troubling. That being said- these arguments/reasons are not the main reason that abortions take place. Abortions are overwhelmingly performed as a method of birth control, not in the rare cases mentioned above. There are many better birth control methods that do not require a woman to kill her own child.

    As a healthcare professional, a Pediatrician actually- I am an advocate for the health and well being of children. and adolescents.

    As a person and as a Physician,I do not think it is my right to tell another woman, in another circumstance what to do. I give the best advice I can, and try not to judge others. One never fully knows the circumstances in another's life or their experiences. If I am asked I will give my honest opinion in a straightforward and clinical way. I think a decision as serious as this , should not be taken lightly and I would not want to influence that woman. She would need to know all the facts and proceed according to her own judgement. I do think it is best if the father is informed, but am not sure how often that happens.
    I do know that many woman who have abortions, regret it afterwords. I think that abortion is far too common, considering the education and options that are available to prevent pregnancy.

    You mentioned the word containers. I am a woman, I think I am reasonably intelligent. I think I a good doctor and good person. I am not perfect- just like everybody else.
    As a woman, in many ways- I am a product of my biology. I was made to have children–from the viewpoint of my DNA. I did decide to have children. My husband and I enjoy our family very much. Many women choose not to have children, and that is fine with me. Each person has to choose their own path.

    Do I feel like a container, or an incubator– because I am a woman- no not at all. I think that is something that a "Feminist" might think.
    I use the word feminist to refer to those woman who think that, woman have to be exactly like men to be equal.
    I do not think that is important, possible or desirable. I do not want to be a man. I should be paid equally and considered equally in most if not all arenas.

    I think I am smart and gifted in my own ways. I do not prefer masculinized terms for female occupations-because I do not consider myself inferior to men. For example everyone is an actor now, not actor and actress. I think it is overdone.
    I also do not think I am superior to men either. Both sexes have their strengths and weakness.
    I enjoyed and continue to enjoy children. My husband and I want to raise them to be competent, self reliant, thoughtful and good people — not an easy task. We are working on though.

    I am not sure if I answered all your questions, and perhaps said more than you wanted to hear.
    Be Well, Dr. S

    • Khalid Jan says:

      Hello Dr. Alvarez,

      I thank you very much for replying in such a detailed manner. I somehow gather from your words that you are a woman of not only faith, but honesty, integrity and especially, 'practical wisdom.' From a human-centric and 'cultural' perspective, what you have said, there is not much that I disagree with, except a few comments: "she should not have gotten pregnant in the first place." If we see the world, society and everyone else as we are, then this argument holds ground. I and you are somewhat 'aware' that this is not the case. The days of social and family-centric collectivism are long gone. Individualism, in its most potent form, has taken over the societies. Each individual has become the master of his/her own destiny. Education, in all of its forms, is geared towards developing mindless robotic beings that follow orders. The end result is that from a child to an adult, all are seeking 'happiness' of which, they have no idea. This 'imposed' hedonistic view of life is what causes a woman to get pregnant. When choices are implanted in our minds by the forces that control us, and the rigid system of 'rules' that prevent us from thinking, can we rationally then blame the poor woman for getting pregnant? As for depression being a direct consequence of abortion in some women, then there must be some women who don't get depressed after abortion. Can we, in any way, establish that those women who continue with the pregnancy and give birth, never in their life time become depressed? As for ES cell patents, then all I want to say is that its foundation is essentially investments, stocks and corporate greed, and lacks concern for humanity that can hardly make the ends meet, except the class that seeks immortality.

      In the end, from an eastern philosophical perspective, it appears to me that your thoughts are thoughts of an 'awakened' person. Keep up the good work!

      Best Regards and keep well,
      kj

      • Sandra Alvarez MD says:

        Mr. Jan,

        Thank you as well for your kind and respectful words. Perhaps my comments did sound insensitive regarding unwanted pregnancy. I was placing on others the criticism and values I expect in myself and my family members. As you suggested, this is not how the world is anymore, but it should be. I do try to be that person, that doctor that my patients can talk to, when they feel alone. It is more common than one would expect.
        I do come from a very supportive family and my life has been rich, not in a monetary sense, but in a familial and spiritual sense. My father and mother are still very much a part of my life. I honor them. I speak to them on a daily basis and despite my accomplishments; I would not be the person I am today without their guidance and love. I never argue directly with my parents out of deep respect for the sacrifices they have made for me and my brother and sisters. I value their wisdom. I never talk back to my parents– and I am an adult professional woman with four children of my own. This is a difficult concept for many of my contemporaries to understand– even more so for my young patients. It is also sad, because for those whose only goal is self fulfillment- their lives are empty .
        I care deeply for others and their suffering. I agree with you, that family life, and community life have been supplanted by the egocentric views of the individual.
        In my professional life as a doctor to young people,I do advocate and get personal with my patients.
        I bring up uncomfortable subjects. I write letters for my patients who have been bullied and ignored.
        I openly speak of drugs and how they are harmful. I also have a great rapport with my patients, because I share my ownself with them.
        I do not get more money nor do I get accolades for what I do each day. I do get some very hard earned smiles and looks or gestures of appreciation. Those small things, make my work so worthy and fulfilling to me. It is such a great honor, to help help those many adolescents that are lost. I also feel very good at the end of the day when I have made, even the smallest difference in the life of another person– if it is only to remind them to hold on to their dreams and fight for them.
        I very much enjoyed this exchange.
        Be well, Very Sincerely, Dr. S.

        PS. I also appreciate your comment of being awakened in an "Eastern" sense. Perhaps there is something you suggest I read, I would very much like to learn more. We are all forever students of human nature. I always try to improve myself– if only bit by bit.

        • Khalid Jan says:

          Dr. Alvarez, once again, I appreciate your reply. I am not sure if your patients, your community and your colleagues can detect the presence of a gem in their midst. If they haven't so far, then they need to dive into an ocean. When doctors see their patients as themselves, they not only treat the mortal body, but also the injured soul. To a terminal patient, words that penetrate the heart and the soul could be of much value than unnecessary doses of powerful life prolonging drugs. Pain and misery of the body can be successfully treated by medication, but the pain that torments the soul cannot be easily removed, except when the healer and the sick form a union of oneness. From your words, I gather that you are one of those healers.

          I myself don't know much, except what I learn from people such as yourself. Few works come to my mind that may benefit you in your profession:

          1) There is a spiritual solution to every problem by Dr. Wayne Dyer. 2) The Gift by Hafiz and Daniel Ladinsky. 3) The Way to Love by Father Anthony DeMello. 4) Practical Wisdom by Barry Schwartz and Kenneth Sharpe. 5) A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy by William Braxton Irvine.

          Kindest Regards; Sincerely,
          Khalid Jan
          Ottawa, Canada

  • Sandra Alvarez MD says:

    Mr. Sharp,
    I was not trying to tell you off. I was not trying to be rude. I know that I was rude, because I found you comments irritating . I do apologize for that.
    I do not like to get into discussions about the words contained in the dialogue and their meaing. I apologize for questioning your qualifications. I apologize for being rude or coarse in my dialogue with you.
    In the written format, I find that words can easily be misunderstood.
    You are obviously an intelligent person.
    We have very different points of view.
    You are correct,I did not overtly say all human life =human beings, it was what I meant though.
    I respectfully disagree with you about the embryo. I wil leave it there.
    Sincerely,Dr. S

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