Friday, June 27, 2008

Oliver Smithies Makes a Good Point About Stem Cells

2007 Nobel Prize winner (for medicine) Oliver Smithies is an interesting guy. He has had a lengthy career in which he helped advance our understanding of genetics, and CNN covers some of it in an interview with Smithies.

The part I found most interesting came near the end of the interview, when Smithies talked about stem cells (which is not one of his areas of research, but I'd venture to say he knows more about them than I do):
Smithies describes life as being continuous since it began. Evolution has made it more complex, he explains, but even so, simple structures such as human eggs and sperm are alive. And so are fertilized eggs. So in his view, if they are not needed by couples trying to have children using in vitro fertilization, discarding these eggs kills them. In his view, using them to create embryonic stem cells keeps them alive.

I found that rather an interesting way of looking at the issue. As Smithies says, "I asked the ambassador to suggest to the president of the U.S. that we maybe have got this the wrong way round when we talk about when life begins in this respect. As far as embryonic stems cells are concerned, my position would be and my argument would be: When does life end?"

His point is well-taken, and one that should be considered in the debate about stem cells.

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