What do Kraft, Pepsi, Nestle and Dead Babies have in common? Sounds like the start of a bad joke. The answer however is not a joke, it’s Synomex.
The other day while researching some Crohn’s/diet related stuff, I happened on this fascinating story about how Pepsi was using aborted fetuses to create the flavoring in their signature drink (sorry I can't link it, I cant find it now). Of course the story was a bit misleading. It implied that Pepsi used aborted fetuses in their drink. It isn’t quite that bad. But still rather creepy. Here is a more accurate story...
Synomex is a company who develops flavor ingredients. It was recently discovered that one of the components they use in the development of some of these flavors is HEK-293. HEK 293 is a cell line which was originally cloned in the 70’s from the kidney cells of an aborted fetus (The abortion occurred in the Netherlands, where abortion was legal). Cells were harvested from the fetus, placed in culture (food/fertilizer for cells), and they have been merrily dividing ever since.
This cell line is used frequently for research. It has been used in the development of Influenza vaccines. It would be difficult to determine how many other medications it has been used in.
Synomex uses this cell line in its effort to develop flavorings. As I understand it, it is not an ingredient itself, rather it is an indicator. They have tweaked the cell to emit a ‘signal’ of sorts when they achieve the precise flavor they are targeting (Think of it as the Good Nut (or Egg if you’re old school) indicator).
At any rate, some pro-life groups have launched boycotts against Pepsi, and are talking about Kraft and Nestle, and others (here is a list of alleged known offenders, Synomex has since removed information about customers from their website).
So, this raised a few questions. What do you do about this? Should anything be done? If the cells had been harvested from a spontaneous abortion, rather than an elected abortion, would that change your response? What if they had come from an adult, capable of consciously making the decision to be an organ donor? Does the fact that HEK293 is also used in life saving medicines change your response?
That last question prompts a memory of an episode from Babylon5; titled “Deathwalker”. A war criminal who tortured and murdered countless individuals is found and captured. Several governments step in to forestall justice against her, when it is discovered that she has developed an immortality serum. There is a catch. This serum requires a component that she cannot synthesize, it can only be collected from another living person, at the cost of their life. In other words, for one to gain immortality, someone else must die.
Would you be okay with that? If you are okay with the one, but not the other, where do you draw the line between the two? Where does that ethical line fall? Once that line was reached, how much further will you move it?