Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

More on stem cells

Here’s an account of a hearing held yesterday on a stem cell research alternative I mentioned here. Ramesh Ponnuru has some good questions for those who oppose this but are still willing to destroy human embryos. QD tries to explain what they might be up to.

For other accounts of the politics of the competing proposals, go here and here. Here’s the Council on Bioethics White Paper that details the science of it all. Robert P. George, joined by Mary Ann Glendon and Alfonso Gomez-Lobo, offers the following observations:

Of the four possible methods explored in our White Paper, the one that has attracted the most intense interest outside the Council is altered nuclear transfer. There are two major concerns: (1) the question whether the entity produced would be truly non-embryonic, and not a disabled embryo or an embryo genetically programmed for a premature death; and (2) the question whether ova could be supplied without subjecting women to the painful and possibly dangerous process of superovulation. Neither of these questions is, strictly speaking, ethical, though both have what I consider to be decisive ethical implications. Like Dr. Hurlbut, who has taken the lead in formulating this proposal, I will not support altered nuclear transfer as a method of obtaining human pluripotent stem cells unless it can be shown that (1) the procedure truly and reliably produces nonembryonic entities, rather than damaged embryos, and (2) it is possible to carry out altered nuclear transfer on the scale required without subjecting women to harmful and exploitative practices.

I recognize that some people have objections to altered nuclear transfer even if these conditions are met. Dr. Krauthammer, for example, objects even if the sources of stem cells created can be shown truly to be nonembryonic. Because Dr. Krauthammer also objects (as I do) to the creation for destruction of true embryos (by cloning or any other method), I take his concerns very seriously and welcome his criticisms of my own more permissive view. I would not finally endorse altered nuclear transfer using human cells prior to engaging the argument with him more fully and considering with the utmost care the considerations he adduces against it.

It is more difficult to credit the ethical objections to altered nuclear transfer of those who support the creation of true embryos to be destroyed in biomedical research. How can it be right deliberately to create and destroy true human embryos—beings that no one can deny are human individuals in the embryonic stage of development—yet somehow wrong to produce disorganized growths that are the moral equivalent of gamete tumors rather than embryos?

One final point: the effort in which I am happy to join to find morally legitimate means of obtaining embryonic or embryonic-type stem cells should not be interpreted as indicating any acceptance of the hyping of the therapeutic promise of embryonic stem cell research that has marred the debate over the past four years. This promotion of exaggerated expectations dishonors science and shames those responsible for it by cruelly elevating the hopes of suffering people and members of their families. It should be condemned.

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