It made the front page of the New York Times , but don’t let that dissuade you¯reports today about new ethical sources of embryonic-type stem cells are credible, and they are very good news. Of course, there is still a long way to go before this particular method will be tested on humans (it was tested on mice), and an even longer way to go before it’ll be used in medical therapies (if it ever will translate into therapies), but one thing is becoming clear: We need not compromise our moral principles and rush into government-funded embryo-destructive research. Not that a principled moral objection shouldn’t be enough, but, for those sitting on the fence, the additional discoveries of alternative sources of embryonic-type stem cells should be decisive.
The new research took adult cells (skin cells), exposed them to four genes, and the genes appear to have reprogrammed the cells to a pluripotent state. A pluripotent state makes the resulting cells indistinguishable from embryonic stem cells, and the scientists got these cells without creating or destroying any embryos. This method of reprogramming has at least one distinct advantage over the ANT-OAR method described below : No human eggs are used, which means the troubling procedure of hyper-ovulation and female exploitation is avoided. It also should relieve the worries of the scholars involved with the journal Communio ¯the use of oocytes in epigenetic reprogramming was one of the major reasons they feared the resulting cell was a disabled embryo. Since this method uses no eggs, it shouldn’t pose that problem, and it seems fairly clear that the resulting cells are pluripotent, not totipotent.
All in all, it’s welcome news. And it comes just in time: The House will likely send President Bush a bill for federal funding on embryo-destructive research today. When he vetoes it, he can point out both that it is an injustice to nascent human life and that science is discovering real alternatives to its putative necessity.