Friday, August 19, 2005


Get ready for a new front in the abortion wars. According to the International Herald Tribure, Swiss researchers have found a novel way to treat severe burn damage to our body's largest organ.
Using human fetal cells, Swiss scientists have developed a new type of "biological bandage" for severe burns, a treatment that speeds and improves the healing process and may prove effective for other serious skin wounds, according to a preliminary study being published today.

But because the bandages are derived from the skin cells of aborted fetuses, the novel therapy is likely to generate controversy in countries like the United States and Italy, which restrict the use of human embryos in scientific research.
If stem-cell research is a heated, visceral topic, then I expect a procedure which conjures up the imagery of cutting large swathes of skin from an aborted fetus to be even more controversial. In the study, the Swiss researchers used "a postage-stamp-size sample of skin taken three years ago from a fetus aborted at 14 weeks," which to their surprise didn't act like a simple graft but stimulated restorative healing. (Just so you know what a fetus around 14 weeks looks like, here's some pics from the pro-life}

Now the Christian Right will probably sieze on this to make really bad metaphors like this is a medical version of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre, but their concern is warranted. Whereas stem-cell research is most promising at the embryo level -- which looks like a glob of goo -- using fetal tissue to treat burns strikes me as more Mengelian in nature considering a fetus is pretty much anatomically developed, despite its promising curative aspects for those suffering from massive external trauma.

Deciding where you stand on this issue will depend on whether, philosophically speaking, you're a Kantian or a utilitarian.

If you're a Kantian and a follower of the categorical imperative, then no one's humanity should be used as a means to an end. (While Christians don't follow the categorical imperative, which is based on reason, they would no doubt agree with it on this matter.)

But if you're a utilitarian, then your moral logic will follow this simple analysis: will the benefits outweigh the costs.

Both are valid positions to take in my opinion.

The one thing I do know for sure right now is I'm genuinely torn. Abortions will persist despite attempts to stop them, whether through persuasion or, if the Christian Right gets its way, legal sanctions, and it would be a shame to stop research that could potentially improve the lives of so many whom suffer. Nevertheless, being someone that believes abortion is morally wrong in most circumstances, it's hard for me not to be revulsed imagining a fetus's skin taken from its body after it has been aborted, especially if the possibility exists that more abortions will be performed because of this medical breakthrough.

So for now, I'm proudly a flip-flopper.