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What do you mean by ?embryo??

?It?s how we describe the thing that almost makes more of a difference than what it is.? These words, from linkurl:Patricia Alt;http://wwwnew.towson.edu/healthscience/alt.html of Towson University in Maryland, are particularly applicable to hot button issues in bioethics, particularly the ever-raging debate over using embryos for stem cell research. At linkurl:this week?s;http://www.the-scientist.com/blog/display/23946/ conference on linkurl:Bioethics & Politics,;http://politics.bioethics.net/

By | July 16, 2006

?It?s how we describe the thing that almost makes more of a difference than what it is.? These words, from linkurl:Patricia Alt;http://wwwnew.towson.edu/healthscience/alt.html of Towson University in Maryland, are particularly applicable to hot button issues in bioethics, particularly the ever-raging debate over using embryos for stem cell research. At linkurl:this week?s;http://www.the-scientist.com/blog/display/23946/ conference on linkurl:Bioethics & Politics,;http://politics.bioethics.net/ hosted by the Albany Medical College, Alt presented a situation when language made all the difference to opinions about stem cell research. In 2005, Maryland legislators became frustrated after repeated attempts to pass a bill protecting stem cell research in both the House and the Senate. And for a state that?s home to Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, protecting this research is important. So they tweaked the language -- most notably, bill-writers changed the words ?human embryo? to ?certain material? or ?unused material,? then linked to information stating that healthcare practitioners will explain all the options to couples undergoing in vitro fertilization, including donating the embryos to other infertile couples or ?embryo adoption purposes? (something even Alt herself was unable to interpret). Along the way, bill-writers also deleted any reference to somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT). After changing the language, the bill was passed by both the House and Senate, and signed by the Governor. This experience showed Alt that language matters a great deal when talking about embryonic stem cell research (?unused material? sounds much more innocuous than ?human embryos?). As a word of advice, she suggested that scientists and other supporters of the research choose their language carefully, and try to be less specific whenever possible. But there are times, too, when language isn?t specific enough -- for instance, she said, many non-scientists may not realize that adult stem cells doesn?t mean cells taken from someone over 21. This suggestion earned a few giggles from the crowd, but I?m sure Alt is right. When trying to explain or convince, scientists need to watch their ?specificity? -- sometimes toning it down, sometimes doing the opposite.
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Comments

July 18, 2006

The use of alternate language to obscure the meaning of law does not sound ethical to me. \n\nAre the lawmakers too dumb to learn the science or do they believe that the voters are too dumb to be educated on the facts? \n\nOr is it just that the elitists know better than we do what is good for us? \n\nAs I pointed out to the panel, the new International Stem Cell Research Guidelines has an excellent glossary. If there is truly contention about the definition of embryo, perhaps a good reference would help.\n\nFrom comments that were made in several of the forums, the purpose of the Progressive Bioethics Institute - an invitation only political meeting just prior to the opening of Thursday's session - was to discuss strategy that included just this sort of redefining and renaming in order to influence the public and legislators.\n\nBeverly Nuckols, MD\nTexas\nwww.LifeEthics.org\n\n
Avatar of: Don Bogdanske

Don Bogdanske

Posts: 1

July 19, 2006

I agree with the language situation. As an educator one of my main concerns is that students attain the correct information. When they do not they become more confused and this leads to mistrust and/or ignorance. I am disappointed in the fact that our current president will most likely veto the bill and that Mr. Bush views this as "murder" (NPR July 19). The cells will be discarded anyway so it really is a waste. As a Christian I sometimes struggle with issues but I am also a Biologist by profession so I realize the importance of this research. I will not get into the non-biological implications (war and death that seems to be a waste as well). It's all about language and education.\n\nDr. D. Bogdanske, ScD

July 21, 2006

As a Registered Nurse that has worked at Hopkins and now at Albany med, I find it very disheartening that doctors have joined the realm of politicians in twisting the truth to get what they want all in the name of bettering our world. I guess that I am from the old school when medicine was ethical and we looked up to doctors for preserving life. Since I have graduated they have redefined when life starts, ( I was taught that life started at conception), to make abortion more palitable. Now we are redifining it again so that one potential life may perserve another. Even with the great success with adult stem cells, this speaker chooses to make a joke out of them. I am sure that I am not the only one who feels that not only embryos are dying here.

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