Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Is the Stem Cell Debate Over?

In a remarkable turn of events one of the most contentious political issues of our time became a moot point overnight. This happy news was published online Tuesday (Nov. 20th 2007) in two journals simultaneously, Cell and Science. Dr. Shinya Yamanaka of Kyoto University reported this breakthrough in Cell; the paper published in Science was headed up by Junying Yu. Yu's team was working in the lab of stem-cell pioneer James A. Thomson of the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The reprogrammed cells behaved like just stem cells in a series of lab tests.

President Bush, who had vetoed bills that allow for federal funding of controversial embryonic stem-cell research, was described as "very pleased." The President had taken the slings and arrows from what seemed the entire Hollywood establishment and now stands vindicated.

"The president believes medical problems can be solved without compromising either the high aims of science or the sanctity of human life," his press secretary said.

Charles Krauthammer writing for declares:

the "embryonic stem cell debate over". He continues: The verdict is clear: Rarely has a president -- so vilified for a moral stance -- been so thoroughly vindicated.

Why? Precisely because he took a moral stance. Precisely because, as (James A. )Thomson puts it, Bush was made "a little bit uncomfortable" by the implications of embryonic experimentation. Precisely because he therefore decided that some moral line had to be drawn.

This is a good point that can't be emphasized enough. Sure, one can make the case that most of these embryos probably faced destruction whether or not they are used for research. It's that it represents the slippery slope that uses any argument necessary to justify ethically questionable practices. Isn't the President now under fire for his administration's "ethically challenged" view of torture? Waterboarding enemy combatants under the guise that the information devulged has averted attacks and saved innocent lives. It so easy to judge something when it's your Ox being gored...

Lost in all debate and self righteous rhetoric from all the President's detractors is the fact nothing useful had come from embryonic stem cell research. Not one therapy or treatment was ever applied to a dying child. However, real treatments and therapies developed out of Adult Stem Cell research were relegated to page A11 in the newspapers. With each of these stories in the main stream media we were treated to regular diatribes against the President when the story had nothing to do with embryonic stem cells. The imprecise language conveniently let the reader believe that Bush had banned stem cell research altogether. Nothing could be further from the truth.

I doubt that the debate is really over. Ultimately my gut tells me that this breakthrough is so revolutionary that the money will follow this path and cloning guys and the embryo guys will fade quietly away.

Still, don't expect anyone in the main stream press to to tip their hat toward the President anytime soon...



Al Fin said...

Very interesting story.

Adult stem cell re-direction to pluripotency will probably be the way we achieve regenerative medical feats of wonder. Since ASCs are already "your cells", the rejection danger is minimal.

ESC techniques for organ replacement and regenerative cell/tissue replacement has a lot of bugs to work out--not to mention the huge ethical concerns that go far beyond any opposition to abortion.

twisted steel said...

This largely unheralded "scientific" milestone could prove to be one more stunning chapter in the genuine history of our second President named Bush. It may be many decades before the hysterical political hatred wanes and it can be honestly recorded. What it might reveal to our children's children is that despite his many missteps and frequent disappointments Dubya has been an extraordinarily effective leader for this nation. They may even learn once the distortions and bilious rhetoric are removed from the record, that his moral clarity was in no way an impediment to steadfast leadership but instead was the guiding force behind it.