Stem Cell Research

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Once again, politics trumps progress. The Senate is considering three bioethics bills on stem cell research. Some combination of them is expected to pass; a bill on stem cell research has already passed the more conservative House. But no matter. An insurmountable presidential veto (the first of the President Bush presidency) is expected to follow.

When one takes the time to examine the three bills, and the religious furor that controls the president's stand on stem cell research, one realizes this nation has advanced precious little (perhaps, in fact, we have regressed) since John Scopes's conviction, 81 years ago this month, for teaching evolution.

Two leading ethicists describe the bills in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution as follows: "The Senate recently agreed to consider three bioethics bills: one to permit federal funding for research on embryos left over in fertility clinics, one to prohibit fetal farming, and one to fund alternative methods of producing genetically controlled, pluripotent stem cells - just the kind of stem cells we would get from cloning, but without the embryo destruction."

But compare that with this Luddism posted by "the editors" of the National Review Online: "Some politicians who object to subsidizing the killing of embryos are worried about the political consequences of voting against the bill. They shouldn't be....Even if the bill were to become law - which it will not as long as this president is in office - it would not accomplish much. Science might progress a little faster. But it is pretty clear that research using cloned human embryos and fetuses has more to offer than research using the embryos at fertility clinics."

I have often wondered how such people claim the pro-life mantle, when they are arguing for the preservation of a microscopic clump of cells over curing cancer for a fully formed, living, breathing human adult. Is it accurate to use the phrase "killing of embryos," when zygotes created in a lab and never placed in a womb have no chance of developing into a fully formed baby in any event?

No matter that the ethicists say, science can promote a way forward that completely eradicates the debate: "Looking ahead, it is becoming increasingly likely that reprogramming adult cells to pluripotency, rather than destroying human embryos, will be the future of regenerative medicine. It offers both a more efficient and far more ethical way forward," wrote conservative ethicists Robert George and Eric Cohen in the Washington Post. These ethicists, by the way, also object to human cloning and to fetal farming, as do I. But having just lost a father to a type of cancer that has no cure now but might be cured with stem cell research, I cannot view the typical religious perspective as pro-life.