I’ve still got an long essay on stem cells in the wings, but couldn’t help highlighting this story: researchers have perfected a method by which stem cells can be removed from developing embryos without inevitably preventing them from developing further. Pragmatically, this is a hopeful step towards allowing important research to proceed without pissing off large portions of the country. In terms of science, though, I’d say it’s another pretty dramatic demonstration of how wrong many of the “embryos are morally important people from conception” are about the reality of human reproduction, which is endlessly more complex and ambiguous than this position can account for.
This particular story continues to drive home the point that we’re looking here at a biologic process for building human beings, not the human beings themselves. That construction process can be stalled or hindered or stopped, but the fact that the cells involved are genetically homo sapien, and that they are playing out instructions on how to build a person, just aren’t compelling reasons to view the process and a rather meager amount of the necessary raw materials as being the end result themselves, any more than a set of blueprints and a hammer are a house.
As the story notes, there is also the question of whether the removed cells would themselves be capable of growing into new people: a point I’ve raised several times in the case of the supposedly more politically-correct adult stem cells. Reproduction is a particular cellular process, not a spark of magic. The magic is the final set of functions this process achieves: the feeling, caring, hoping that beings with brains can experience. A cell alone, nor even a group of them organized into an embryonic template, simply isn’t the same sort of being.