How to Farm Stem Cells Without Losing Your Soul

When William Hurlbut pitched his stem-cell compromise to Vatican
types at a Rome conference he got promising reviews from some of
stem-cell science’s most stalwart foes.

Hurlbut’s idea hinges on what’s called a teratoma, ‘a naturally
occurring tumor that grows from an egg or sperm cell’ and is
replete with teeth, hair, skin, other Frankenstein-like features
and stem cells,
Thompson reports in Wired
. Hurlbut proposes creating
something like a teratoma through genetic manipulation. It’s a kind
of genetic/moral loophole: Since the entity would never actually
become a human, there’s no moral dilemma for religious folk, like
Hurlbut, in destroying them.

But the idea has tripped up his fellow members on the
President’s Council on Bioethics. ‘There is something morally
creepy about genetically engineering a mutant embryo-like being,’
Michael Sandel, a Harvard professor of government, told Hurlbut at
a council meeting in March.

The response has been even worse from scientists. There are
those wary of the actual science; they say it would be difficult to
replicate the success of the mouse trials upon which Hurlbut’s
proposal is based, and even if they could, the stem cells harvested
from the mutant entities would have to be fixed before being used
to treat people. And then there are the scientists who see
Hurlbut’s idea as a political problem — an option the religious
right could seize upon to block other research paths.

It’s this resistance that’s come as a surprise to Hurlbut. ‘He
seems genuinely stunned to discover that his real fight isn’t with
either the Vatican or even the President’s Council,’ Thompson
writes. ‘Ironically, his biggest opponents are those he says he’s
trying to help: embryonic stem cell researchers.’
Hannah Lobel

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