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The news is being triumphantly proclaimed, under banners of scientific liberation and medical messianism: The FDA yesterday approved the first trial of embryonic stem-cell treatment.

It is a “research milestone,” says the New York Times , a “watershed moment,” adds the Wall Street Journal . The California biotech company, Geron Corp., has approval to begin a study of embryonic stem-cell therapy for up to ten victims of spinal-cord injury. The Journal reports:

“This is the dawn of a new era in medical therapeutics,” said Thomas B. Okarma, Geron’s president and chief executive officer. The hope that stem-cell therapy will repair and regenerate diseased organs and tissue “goes beyond what pills and scalpels can ever do.”

Limits on stem-cell research, which prevented federal funding and were imposed by Congress and former President George W. Bush for ethical and religious reasons, have had a chilling effect on both academic and corporate research involving such cells. Proponents of stem-cell research say restrictions have delayed development of promising new treatments, while critics contend that harvesting stem cells from embryos destroys human life.

President Barack Obama said during his campaign that overturning research limits would be a top priority in his administration.

It goes without saying that there is no reasoned discussion of the ethical objections to the destruction of human embryos—all of which is now cast aside with a gasp of relief. But what strikes me most about these pieces of journalism is not the philosophical but the scientific ignorance—or, if not ignorance, at least peculiar ignoring. No mention that over two thousand clinical trials are already underway using stem cells derived from adult lines, and that these trials have been approved not because they keep the religious folks happy, but because the medical possibilities for safety and success are so much more promising.

Now might be a good time to revisit Maureen Condic’s piece on last year’s true stem-cell breakthrough, and Ryan Anderson and Joseph Bottum’s discussion of what happens when scientists turn politicians, and partisan “usefulness trumps truth.”



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