Stem cell politics and science

Charles Krauthammer:

"If human embryonic stem cell research does not make you at least a little bit uncomfortable, you have not thought about it enough."

-- James A. Thomson

WASHINGTON -- 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.

Which allows a bit of reflection on the storm that has raged ever since the August 2001 announcement of President Bush's stem cell policy.

The verdict is clear: Rarely has a president -- so vilified for a moral stance -- been so thoroughly vindicated.

Why? Precisely because he took a moral stance. Precisely because, as Thomson puts it, Bush was made "a little bit uncomfortable" by the implications of embryonic experimentation. Precisely because he therefore decided that some moral line had to be drawn.

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.

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.

...

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.

We would do well to look back on the demagoguery of Democrats on this issue in the 2006 congressional race. It should be a reminder of the lack of content in their character. The passion they brought to the debate did not spring from wisdom but from political opportunity based on misguided science. One day the same will probably be said about the climate "science" that animates their global warming hysteria. For too many Democrats hysteria has become a political art form.

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