“I don’t want toenails growing in my brain,” said Dr Peter McCullagh on ABC Newsradio’s “News in Science” programme 5 April 2002.
This was the day Australian Federal and State governments allowed existing human embryos left over from IVF treatments to be used for research into using embryonic stem cells for treating a multitude of human illness including diabetes, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases, heart attacks and strokes. Stem cells are unspecialised cells capable of growing into many different specialised cells such as brain cells or muscle cells.
Whilst many scientists are rejoicing other scientists are sceptical that embryonic stem cells can cure human diseases. Dr Peter McCullagh from the Department of Veterinary Science at Sydney University claims “It is a complete fraud to say that stem cell research will help Alzheimer’s. We don’t even know the cause of the disease or the mechanism involved.” Another serious scientific problem arises from the fact stem cells can grow into many different types of tissues but we do not know how to control it – hence Dr McCullagh’s comment about toenails in the brain.
Editorial Comment: Using human embryos for stem cell research is both bad science and bad ethics. There are many other scientific problems as well as the control problem brought up by McCullagh. For example tissues grown from embryos will be just as incompatible for transplants as those taken from other adults because a human embryo is a unique human being. However, the most serious issue is that using embryonic stem cells involves deliberately destroying a human life. Human beings are made in the image of God, and therefore must not be considered in the same category as laboratory animals or cell cultures.
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