Sophie’s Choice II: Stem Cells in the Balance.

June 18, 2006 | By | 3 Replies More

For many months, I knew that something horrible was haunting Sophie.  Finally, one quiet night, she broke down and told me all of the details about that awful dilemma she faced several years before, while she was a prisoner in a concentration camp.

Sophie had arrived at the camp with precious cargo in both hands. In her right hand, she held the tiny hand of Molly, her 3-year old daughter.  Molly, confused by all of the commotion, clung to her mother’s side. In Sophie’s left hand, she held a small Petri dish containing a blastocyst that was smaller than a grain of sand.*  A few dozen embryonic stem cells were at the center of this blastocyst.

A Nazi officer stared at Sophie with his steely eyes.  He announced to Sophie that he had decided to release her from the concentration camp, but that Sophie could take only one of the following with her:     A) Molly or B) Sophie’s Petri dish of stem cells.  The officer instructed Sophie to make her choice and that he would immediately throw her non-choice into a huge blazing furnace.

Sophie trembled, “I don’t know what to do.”  She looked at the Petri dish, then at Molly.  Little Molly saw that her mother was in distress.  Molly reached up to hug Sophie.

Sophie sobbed to the officer, “Don’t make me choose. I can’t choose!”

The officer then turned to a young Nazi prison guard and told him to throw Molly and the stem cells into the furnace.

Sophie suddenly released Molly, shouting “Take Molly!”  Sophie watched as terrified little Molly was carried away to her death. 

A few minutes later, as Sophie was released from camp, she carefully cradled her Petri dish of stem cells in her arms.  As she walked away, she whispered to herself, “I did the best I could.  They put me in an impossible position.”

The End.

[This short story is dedicated to the many people who insist that un-implanted blastocysts are the moral equivalent of children, as part of their quest to prevent scientists from developing life-saving cures for real children].

*Where do stem cells come from

All human beings start their lives from a single cell, called the zygote, which is formed after fertilization. The zygote divides and forms two cells; each of those cells divides again, and so on. Pretty soon, about five days after conception, there is hollow ball of about 150 cells called the blastocyst. The blastocyst is smaller than a grain of sand and contains two types of cells, the trophoblast and the inner cell mass. Embryonic stem cells are the cells that make up the inner cell mass. As embryonic stem cells can form all cell types in an adult, they are referred to as pluripotent stem cells.


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Category: American Culture, Religion, Reproductive Rights, Science

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

Comments (3)

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  1. grumpypilgrim says:

    The brother of a good friend of mine just found out last week that his stage 4 lymphoma has gone into remission as a result of experimental stem cell therapy. Had it been unavailable, he would have had no other options — he had already been through ten rounds of chemotherapy.

    The notion that stem cell research should be diluted, even eliminated, to protect the "life" of a blastocyst in a Petri dish dismays me. What is next? Parents giving names to their blastocysts? Parents proudly displaying photographs of their blastocysts on their desks at work? Changing the tax laws so people can receive a deduction for their blastocyst dependents? Parents seeking early enrollment for their blastocysts in private schools, to reserve a place on the waiting list? Blastocyst baptisms (with ministers fearing homocide charges if they accidentally flush the beloved blastocyst into the basin of holy water)? Funeral services for departed blastocysts, complete with tearful eulogies about how the neighbors never got a chance to meet the blastocyst, and how the parents saw such a bright future for their blastocyst, hoping someday to send it to medical school?

    But I think Erich's example is the most poignant. In what way does a blastocyst in a Petri dish deserve consideration equal to that of a living, breathing person when the differences between the two are so dramatically highlighted?

  2. Sujay says:

    Haha! The above two examples crack me up!

  3. Erich Vieth says:

    Anti-abortionists are pushing the notion that pregnancy begins with fertilization, not implantation. They want validation for that fringe viewpoint from a federal agency that, with a straight face, still calls itself the Department of Health and Human Services.

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