I've just been reading my February 2008 First Things Journal. I found one article particularly interesting -- "Getting Stem Cells right", by Maureen L. Condic. According to what I have found in the magazine credit and online, she is an associate professor of neurobiology and anatomy at the University of Utah School of Medicine and conducts research on the development and regeneration of the nervous system. She has been a contributor to the National Review and First Things on stem cell research.
This article focused on a means of obtaining reprogrammed cells that are pluripotent (able to generate all the cells of the body) without using human embryos or human or animal eggs. Called induced pluripotent stem cells (IPSCs), they are developed from ordinary human skin cells that were converted to stem cells by a process termed direct reprogramming. This reprogramming is done by means of gene-therapy viruses. The process takes approx. 2 weeks, while no embryos are produced or destroyed.
This process would seem to negate the need for further destruction of human embryos in the quest for embryonic stem cells, since the IPSCs "meet the defining criteria" for embryonic stem cells "with the significant exception" that the cells "are not derived from embryos".
In her article, Dr. Condic brings out the point that even President Clinton's bioethics commission concluded that embryo destruction posed a moral problem and was justifiable only if there were no alternatives. Well... it seems there is now a suitable alternative, but those vested in the destruction of embryos are unwilling to give up their direction in the destruction of human embryos.
It does make you wonder if perhaps (since, after all, there have been no significant clinical treatments for illnesses gained as a result of the embryonic stem cell research to date due to the risk of tumor formation in all forms of pluripotent stem cells) there may be another ideological reason why they want to continue to destroy embryos in their research. Perhaps by getting folks immune to this form of destruction of life, another inroad into the 'culture of death' can be made on ordinary citizens. If they can be made to believe that Embryonic Stem Cell Research has the potential to cure all sorts of horrible human ailments by killing a few embryos (which aren't really persons anyway, according to the researchers), then their ideology is spread insidiously.
On the other side, using this IPSC technology holds many advantages for the researcher. There are none of the ethical considerations involved in using adult skin cells (no eggs, no embryos) in stem cell research. They would now, presumably, have other funding options available to their research as well. Plus, from the article, Dr. Condic says that many researchers have had dismal results in trying to get egg donations from women for their research. The risks involved in harvesting eggs are still fairly high for the women involved.
As Dr. Condic stated in her article: "Good science does not demand that all avenues of inquiry be pursued. The Tuskegee experiments on African American men with syphilis and the Nazi experiments on Jews and disabled persons were not legitimate avenues of scientific investigation and were not justified by the useful information they yielded." When you remember those perversions of the supposed scientific inquiry justifications, we are reminded by Dr. Condic: "No one seriously believes that freedom of scientific inquiry should trump all other considerations."
Read the article... it provides hope that, at least on one front -- in Embryonic Stem Cell Research -- IPSCs will bring about the elimination of destruction of human embryos in clinical research.
FIRST THINGS, February 2008