I know you lefties hate Charles Krauthammer, but I continue to think he is one of the better columnists out there, and he has am eminently reasonable piece on the stem cell issue today:
It is a good idea to expand federal funding of embryonic stem cell research. It is a bad idea to do that without prohibiting research that uses embryos created specifically to be used in research and destroyed.
What is deeply troubling about the Castle-DeGette stem cell bill, which passed the House and will soon roar through the Senate, is that it combines the good with the bad: expansion with no limit.
The expansion — federal funding for stem cells derived from some of the thousands of embryos that fertility clinics would otherwise discard — is good because the president’s sincere and principled Aug. 9, 2001, attempt to draw a narrower line has failed. It failed politically because his restriction — funding research only on stem cells from embryos destroyed before the day of that speech — seems increasingly arbitrary as we move away from that date.
It failed practically because that cohort of embryos is a diminishing source of cells. Stem cells turn out to be a lot less immortal than we thought. The idea was that once you created a line, it could replicate indefinitely. Therefore you would need only a few lines.
It turns out, however, that as stem cells replicate, they begin to make genetic errors and to degenerate. After several generations some lines become unusable.
He then goes on to explain why the policy from 2001 is now obsolete, and continues on:
It simply will not do for opponents of this expanded research to say that the federal government should not force those Americans who find this research abhorrent to support it with their taxes. By that logic we should never go to war, or impose the death penalty, except by unanimous consent of the entire population. We make many life-or-death decisions as a society as a whole, without being held hostage to the sensibilities of a minority, however substantial and sincere.
He finishes with this compromise:
Both in my writings and as a member of the President’s Council on Bioethics, I have advocated this dual policy: Expand federal funding of stem cell research by using discarded embryos, but couple that with a firm national ban on creating human embryos for any purpose other than the birth of a human baby. We finally have a chance to enact this grand compromise — but only if a majority of senators insist that the welcome expansion provided in the Castle-DeGette bill, which will yield a near endless supply of embryonic stem cells, cannot take place unless the door is firmly closed now, while we still have the chance, on the manufacture of human embryos for research and destruction.
It will be interesting to see how both sides react to this, although as it is eminently reasonable, and this is a Friday in August, it will probably be summarily ignored by the reactionaries on both sides of the debate.
*** Update ***
Some say it is not that reasonable at all, as it would ban something which is currently legal. I thought there was an ample supply of already existing embryonic stem cells, and those would continue to be available in the future. I read the proposed ban to prohibit creating stem cells SOLELY for the purpose of resaearch, but allowing the use of emrbyonic stem cells that are created for other reasons would remain permissible. Am I just flat-out wrong on my interpretation of this column?
*** Update #2 ***
Scientists looking for easier and less-controversial alternatives to stem cells from human embryos said on Friday they found a potential source in placentas saved during childbirth.
They described primitive cells found in a part of the placenta called the amnion, which they coaxed into forming a variety of cell types and which look very similar to sought-after embryonic stem cells.
With 4 million children born in the United States each year, placentas could provide a ready source of the cells, the team at the University of Pittsburgh said.
It is not yet certain that the cells they found are true stem cells, said Stephen Strom, who worked on the study. But they carry two important genes, called Oct 4 and nanog, which so far have only been seen on embryonic stem cells.
*** Update ***