Is the Battle for Stem Cells Over?

Human embryonic stem cells in cell culture - Wikipedia

By Dr. Nathaniel T. Jeanson - Posted at Answers in Genesis:

We haven’t heard much about stem cells lately. Why?

The ethical use of human stem cells sparked an intense debate nearly 20 years ago. Since life and death were on the table, it’s no surprise that loud opinions and strong passions raged. The fires of controversy even reached the highest political office when, in 2001, pro-life President Bush restricted the use of federal funds for human embryonic stem cell research.

Since then, the controversy has cooled and almost subsided. But not for the reasons you might expect.

I’ve observed this debate closely, both as a lifelong pro-lifer and as a stem cell researcher, and I’ve been surprised at the trajectory this dispute has taken. Steadily but nearly imperceptibly, advocates of human embryonic stem cell research have effectively moved closer to the pro-life position. However, their shift has not been for reasons that pro-lifers could have predicted.

Advocates of stem cell research on human embryos have not conceded that life begins at conception. They have not admitted that adult stem cells have greater potential than the stem cells of preborn babies. In fact, they have not given in to any of the pro-life positions. Instead, the research of stem cells has followed a rather unexpected arc—with promising ramifications that may circumvent the moral impasse.

An Initial Chasm

When researchers first reported isolating human embryonic stem cells in 1998, it set in motion a whirl of global scientific activity and ethical wrangling. Because these cells ultimately develop into every cell type in the body, from pancreatic cells and brain cells to muscle and intestines, they allured researchers with the promise of cures for disease. Theoretically, these cells could replace diseased tissues and remove the scourges of cancer, heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and many more diseases.

At the same time, the harvesting of these embryonic cells provoked the ire of the pro-life community. When these cells are derived outside the womb, human embryos must be killed. Hence, to save the lives of sick patients, the lives of other individuals would have to end.

Not surprisingly, a contentious battle soon ensued. The embryonic stem cell community and the pro-life community could not have been further apart.


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