Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Embryonic stem cell research

It looks like Obama will reverse Bush's policies on funding for ESCR:
In August 2001, Bush barred the National Institutes of Health from funding research on embryonic stem cells other than that using 60 cell lines existing when he signed the executive order.

Researchers say the ban has limited their progress and want the opportunity to create new stem cells from human embryos. Many conservatives, however, object to the destruction of human embryos because they believe it ends a human life.

On his campaign Web site, Obama said he supports the creation of new stem cells from embryos created for in vitro fertilization treatments that would otherwise be discarded.

But White House spokeswoman Dana Perino on Monday suggested that the incoming Obama administration should consider keeping Bush's policy in place.

I've asked this before and figure I'll give it another shot. Suppose there are two embryos in an IVF clinic. One would be implanted first. If all went as planned, the second embryo wouldn't be needed and would be discarded. A coin is flipped and the coin determines which embryo is implanted first. It turns out that the first embryo successfully implants and the second is discarded. Suppose that had the coin flip gone differently, the second would have implanted and the first discarded. Does it make any sense to say that the first embryo was "lucky" to have won that coin flip? More to the point, does it make any sense to say that second was "unlucky" to have lost that flip and to be pitched with other unneeded embryos?

[Update. So far, no thinks that there can be lucky embryos. Flash forward twenty years. After the embryo implanted, it developed into a fetus. The fetus developed into an infant. That infant grew into Charlie. Should we say of that twenty year old, Charlie, that he was lucky that that embryo won the coin toss? Let's assume that Charlie's life is pretty good.]


Anonymous said...

Rather than think about this case in terms of "lucky" or "unlucky," think of it in terms of probability.

Clayton said...


Why not think of it in terms of "unlucky"? I don't think an embryo can be unlucky or lucky.

Brandon said...

What sort of meaning are you attaching to the word 'lucky'? I usually use 'lucky' to apply even to inanimate objects, so you must have in mind a narrower notion of it.

Clayton said...

Agreed, I think it would be a mistake to say that either is lucky or unlucky. It's not good luck for embryos to be turned into persons. Or, so it seems to me.

Jonathan Ichikawa said...

Eh, sure, call it a lucky embroyo if you want. Also, most of the stones in the ground outside my window have become cracked over the years, but I think I can see a lucky one that hasn't been particularly stressed.


Anonymous said...

I wouldn't use the terms lucky or unlucky. As a woman who has had 2 tubal pregnancies and 1 miscarriage, it would relieve some of my grief knowing that the my embryos were not just thrown in the trash, but were actually used for something which prolonged life.


Anonymous said...

Wouldn't Charlie say (if his life is pretty good), "Whew, I'm lucky they destroyed that other embryo and not mine"?


Clayton said...

Maybe, but I don't know. As an adopted kid who may well have been a bastard, I don't think it sounds right to say 'Man, I sure am lucky that the contraceptives failed' and I have a pretty good life. I'm sort of of the same view about the coin flip. But, that's me. I don't have as clear intuitions as I do about the first question where I think talk of lucky embryos is kind of nuts.