The recent advance in creating stem cells that I covered in a recent post here, is addressed by Charles Krauthammer. He has a lot to add regarding the controversy that has preceded and perhaps helped us reach this important milestone.
A decade ago, Thomson was the first to isolate human embryonic stem cells. Last week, he (and Japan's Shinya Yamanaka) announced one of the great scientific breakthroughs since the discovery of DNA: an embryo-free way to produce genetically matched stem cells.
Even a scientist who cares not a whit about the morality of embryo destruction will adopt this technique because it is so simple and powerful. The embryonic stem cell debate is over.
He goes over the vilification that has been directed at President Bush for daring to draw a line on this matter.
In doing so, he invited unrelenting demagoguery by an unholy trinity of Democratic politicians, research scientists and patient advocates who insisted that anyone who would put any restriction on the destruction of human embryos could be acting only for reasons of cynical politics rooted in dogmatic religiosity -- a "moral ayatollah," as Sen. Tom Harkin so scornfully put it.
But then declares that Bush was correct. There must be more to our decision making than, because we can do it we must.
Bush got it right. Not because he necessarily drew the line in the right place. I have long argued that a better line might have been drawn -- between using doomed and discarded fertility-clinic embryos created originally for reproduction (permitted) and using embryos created solely to be disassembled for their parts, as in research cloning (prohibited). But what Bush got right was to insist, in the face of enormous popular and scientific opposition, on drawing a line at all, on requiring that scientific imperative be balanced by moral considerations.
Be sure to read the entire article as Dr. Krauthammer corrects the record on Bush appointing a President's Council on Bioethics to look over stem cell research. He then closes with the positive nature of this technology.
That Holy Grail has now been achieved. Largely because of the genius of Thomson and Yamanaka. And also because of the astonishing good fortune that nature requires only four injected genes to turn an ordinary adult skin cell into a magical stem cell that can become bone or brain or heart or liver.
But for one more reason as well. Because the moral disquiet that James Thomson always felt -- and that George Bush forced the country to confront -- helped lead him and others to find some ethically neutral way to produce stem cells. Providence then saw to it that the technique be so elegant and beautiful that scientific reasons alone will now incline even the most willful researchers to leave the human embryo alone.
I hope he's correct. Unfortunately there will always be extremists, but if this technology is as successful as it appears to be, they should be dismissed and shuttered to the sidelines as we move forward with application to humans and curing diseases.
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