August 14, 2011


Whatever Happened to Stem Cell Research? (Austin Ruse, 8/12/11, Catholic Thing)

The backlash was immediate, fierce, and long-lasting. Though relieved that Bush did not permit the death of hundreds of thousands of frozen embryos, even the Catholic Bishops complained that paying for experimentation on embryos already killed for their stem cells, still cooperated in evil. Many said Bush was gambling with his reelection.

His policy did not end the political controversy. Recall the speeches at the 2004 Democratic National Convention. Almost every one mentioned embryonic stem cell research. John Kerry announced he would fully fund it and received thundering applause. Even Ron Reagan Jr. was invited to speak in favor of embryo-destructive research. The Democratic Party was certain they had a social wedge issue all their own.

But something was already happening, something the Bush policy nurtured. William Hurlbut of Stanford was circulating an idea he called Altered Nuclear Transfer (ANT), a form of cloning he postulated would create pluripotent stem cells without a human embryo.

Hurlbut was invited onto the President's Bioethics Commission, along with such stalwarts as Professor Robert George of Princeton, but also with opponents like Michael Sandel of Harvard and Michael Gazzaniga of UC-Santa Barbara. When Hurlbut presented ANT to the Commission, Gazzaniga mocked him, "So, we're going to take the soul out and put it back in later?"

Hurlbut's ethical proposal was not the only one. Donald Landry of Columbia University said we could medically recognize embryo death and then harvest their stem cells ethically, not unlike organ transplantation. At the same time, a whole host of scientists were having multiple successes with adult stem cells. Here were actual scientists grappling with profound ethical questions and working within ethical boundaries.

Often, a lack of rules results in wider chaos while narrow rules result in greater creativity - and even beauty. That is Bush's great contribution. He encouraged scientists - and gave them room - to catch up to the ethics.

The political pressure remained, but Bush was at his bravest. Congress passed an embryo-destructive stem cell funding bill in 2006. Bush stood in the White House again, this time surrounded by "snow-flake babies," children adopted as frozen embryos and implanted in adoptive mothers. He said, "These boys and girls are not spare parts." A veto override was defeated the next day, largely owing to Hurlbut's idea that embryonic stem cells could be derived ethically.

Not long after, Shinya Yamanaka announced that he had derived pluripotent stem cells (iPS) from the manipulation of adult stem cells that were reprogrammed into embryonic stem cells.

Posted by at August 14, 2011 8:52 AM

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