Busy-ness is a crime in summertime…

July 8, 2007 § 2 Comments

The idea that faith and science are in conflict is a fundamental
violation of the meaning of Christianity.  Truth is a unity, a
seamless garment reflecting the original order of creation where the
material and the moral were poured forth from a single source.

Who is the poet of this beautiful sentiment which brings tears to my eyes? Dr. William Hurlbut, a professor at Stanford University in California and a tireless researcher in the area of alternate sources of pluripotent stem cells. Most recently this includes altered nuclear transfer (ANT). He is one of the masterminds behind the Council’s latest “white paper”, Alternative Sources of Pluripotent Stem Cells. (Like a good intern, I have a copy on my desk, well-marked up and nearly memorized.) FYI, the four alternatives that the paper suggests are (and I am taking this from the paper):

According to the first proposal, pluripotent human stem cells are to be derived from early IVF embryos (roughly 4-8 cells) that have spontaneously died (as evidenced by the irreversible cessation of cell division) but some of whose blastomeresii appear normal and healthy. Crucial to this approach is (a) enunciating a concept of organismic death of an early embryo and (b) devising criteria that permit a determination that embryonic death has occurred. In addition, to satisfy the moral standard, only those once-frozen embryos that are thawed and that die spontaneously during efforts to produce a child will be eligible for post-mortem cell extraction. This proposal was presented at the Council’s December 3, 2004, meeting by Drs. Donald Landry and Howard Zucker of the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons.

According to the second proposal, pluripotent stem cells are to be derived from blastomeres obtained by biopsy of an early human embryo. Crucial to this approach is finding a stage of early embryonic development at which (a) the removal of one or a few cells by biopsy can be carried out without harming the embryo, while (b) the cell or cells removed from the embryo are usable as a source of pluripotent stem cells.

The third approach comprises a variety of proposals for engineering “biological artifacts” possessing some of the developmental capacities of natural embryogenesis (but lacking the organismal character of human embryos) and containing cells from which pluripotent stem cell lines can be derived. Crucial to this approach is demonstrating both (a) that the developing entity is truly not a human embryo and (b) that the cells derived from it are in fact normal human pluripotent cells. In addition, one must show that creating such biological artifacts does not itself introduce other ethical problems. One such proposal (“Altered Nuclear Transfer”) was presented at the Council’s December 3, 2004, meeting by Council Member Dr. William Hurlbut.

The fourth proposal involves reprogramming human somatic cells, perhaps with the aid of special cytoplasmic factors obtained from oocytes (or from pluripotent embryonic stem cells), so as to “dedifferentiate” them back into pluripotent stem cells. Crucial to this approach is discovering a way to reverse cell differentiation all the way to pluripotency, but not (as in cloning) even further back to totipotency.

I know Fr. Joe disagrees with Dr. H’s proposed solution to the problem – and believe me, I am cautious and have reservations of my own – but I also have done a great deal of reading of Dr. H’s articles, etc. and spoken with him myself, and can attest to the fact that he is an altogether honorable, upright, and decent person who would not rush into something without carefully weighing all sides and considering all the facts. After I finish my current research project for the Council, I plan to investigate this third approach quite seriously and decide for myself when I am satisfied with my own level of understanding. Until then, I will have to parry arguments with a “wait and let me study a bit before I answer”.   

Anyway, back to ME! The last few weeks have been crazy-busy, which is why I haven’t been able to find time to post about anything. My research for the Council is humming along very well, and I incredibly haven’t been fired from my job at VSL yet. In fact, they have added to my duties to the point that I am now rushing around for 10 hours each on Mondays and Wednesdays, trying desperately to get everything finished before Daddy comes and drags me out to the car to go home. Thank God for fathers who know what is good for their daughters.

We celebrated my 21st birthday last Sunday with a HUGE party here at the house. With fifty-five guests in all and plenty of awesome food, I think everyone had a good time. And, of course, I can’t forget the water battle. I know that several of my professors have blackmail photos of me now: photos of me standing in the middle of our (muddy) yard absolutely sopping wet after my cousins (and FRIENDS?!) dumped an entire industrial-sized trash can of water over my head. As if that wasn’t enough, they sprayed me liberally with the hose afterwards, squirted me with water guns, and pelted me with water-balloons. I felt as though I had coached the winning team at the Superbowl three or four times over! :)

On Thursday night I took a welcome break when my brother Kenny and I met Fr. Mark for dinner at – where else? – Chipotle. Afterwards we *naturally* had to stroll over to Dairy Queen and get blizzards. Mmmmmm…it was a really wonderfully pleasant evening. When I got home though, I had to laugh: apparently my parents had been trying to get ahold of me for a while (I *happened* to leave the cell phone at home), and they had called each restaurant asking if there was a group constituted of “a tall priest, a red-headed girl, and a blond teenage boy”. Each eatery told my mom that we had left fifteen or so minutes before. Haha. We are so sneaky. :::wink:::

To wrap up, here are some photos from the party last Sunday for your enjoyment, and for me to gloat because you weren’t there. :)

§ 2 Responses to Busy-ness is a crime in summertime…

  • Father Joe says:

    I hope you will be fair and post this comment. I have tried to keep it short and sweet. It does reflect my deepest held convictions.

    You are right, I do have problems with Dr. Hurlbut’s ideas.

    A mouse is not a man. This seems obvious to most of us and yet I suspect the exceptionally brilliant and the most dull-witted and childish sometimes forget this fact. A mouse is conscious in an instinctive way, but it is not self-conscious. It has a memory but not much in the way of a mind. A mouse will never read or write a book. It will neither compose nor perform music— not a symphony, not even a two minute rap song. The mouse can steal cheese, but he cannot make cheese for himself. His life is short and as vermin his existence is granted little or no value. Nevertheless, scientists today are performing experiments upon mice in regard to embryos, DNA mutations and stem cells that are regarded as precursors, both in terms of genetics and ethics, to the eventual manipulation of human genetic material and the origins of life. The prospect makes me shudder. All life is dependent upon God, but men more than mice are imbued with mystery. Men have souls that cannot be ascertained by the physical senses, neither measured nor manipulated by scalpel or hypodermic. The presumption is that at conception a human being is present and no science will ever be able to prove otherwise. No mechanistic description of early human development or even a mutation to forestall what nature and the God of nature intends necessarily means that a man is not present— a being with a supernatural destiny, even if his “personal” natural trajectory is made defective or abridged. Potency, both active and passive, is present. Even as a few microscopic cells, the person is whole, cannot be defined by his parts, and shares his humanity with the species of man. No matter whether brain-dead and ninety years old, or freshly conceived and in a petri-dish, we have a human being. While the use of human gametes and especially egg cells holds its own moral problems, the very sovereignty of God is challenged. Altering the DNA to create a time bomb in the embryo does not negate the fact that like any natural miscarriage, we may still be dealing with a human person who is entitled not to be treated as a means to an ends or as a commodity. Cloning a monstrosity that mimics an embryo might still leave us with a human being— although grossly deformed and defective. I am very fearful that Dr. Hurlbut and his colleagues, despite their pro-life sympathies and good intentions, may have given us a new form of homicide.

    FATHER JOE

  • […] https://peanut1red.wordpress.com/2007/07/08/busy-ness-is-a-crime-in-summertime/ …Dr. William Hurlbut, a professor at Stanford University in California and a tireless researcher in the area of alternate sources of pluripotent stem cells. Most recently this includes altered nuclear transfer (ANT). He is one of the masterminds behind the Council’s latest “white paper”, Alternative Sources of Pluripotent Stem Cells. (Like a good intern, I have a copy on my desk, well-marked up and nearly memorized.) FYI, the four alternatives that the paper suggests are (and I am taking this from the paper): […]

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