Friday, February 15, 2008

Bad Priorities

I've been think a lot about priorities this week. It seems to me that religious dogma tends to inform peoples' priorities far away from reason and common sense. I had a long talk this Valentines Day with my younger sister. We certainly love each other but we have some fundamental differences. Lets just say that if she had a blog, it'd be called "Coptic Devotee's Sunday School Jubilee". She took the opportunity to pick my brain on a topic dear to my fiery heart. It was an engaging talk, so I thought I'd write a bit. Enjoy

Life is sacred (So long as it's microscopic).

Life is sacred! As a med student I totally agree. As a dedicated future neurologist (wish me luck) I could rattle off more than a few diseases which we could cure if we could get areas in the brain to start making the right cells again. Parkinson's? Cured. Spinal cord defects? No problem. And it isn't just the brain! Uncounted numbers of diseases which ravage us could potentially be silenced with such a power. Why do I bring this up? Because the idea isn't magic. Stem cells can do just that. Now, it'll take a few decades and it might not work, but isn't it worth trying?

Unfortunately many people don't think so. Stem cells are isolated from embryos (also from umbilical cord blood, and more recently, skin, but let's keep it simple). And aside from promising new techniques, these procedures destroy the embryo. It is the learned opinion of our religious countrymen that these embryos have souls. Right there in the petri dish! To destroy that tiny speck of genetic material which has never felt, seen, been seen, loved or been loved would be evil. Life is sacred. What about the lives of the people with the terrible diseases? The ones who could be saved, who we all agree are actual people? Screw 'em. Foolishness! This is not a life-for-a-life. This is a speck of genetic material for a life. Actually it is more like a thousand lives per speck. Not a bad deal. Where do these embryos come from anyway? Donated to science by people who have fertility treatments, get pregnant and donate what they no longer need. And if some Yale* frat boy decides to ban Federal funding, they simply go down a sink instead when the storage fees go unpaid. Where are the marches? How come the pro-lifers who jostle for my attention near my school never show me pictures of petri dishes and industrial drains? I don't have that answer. But I do know this: life is sacred, but declaring something in a dish human life is silly. Giving that genetic material rights which it does not enjoy in any court of law or common sense is warped. Declaring that speck is as important or MORE important than people suffering in our wards and clinics is just cruel. So here I am, living in a Red state, hoping a Democrat moves to the White House this winter and gets out of science's way. Because as a nation we will never agree about souls, but we can all agree that the suffering and dying of our friends and neighbors must stop. We must help them if we can. Our only chance is to put the lives of tens of millions of patients and their families above the wellbeing of some cells in a dish. That's what it means to have your priorities straight. And if it seems patently obvious to you: congratulations, you're part of the solution.

{*I'll pretend this is why I turned down Yale, as opposed to the cost}

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