The Corner

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Re: Wait and See on Stem Cells


I agree, Ramesh (of course, you began your post by saying I was right, so it’s easy to agree). Some advocates of embryo research have dismissed every advance on the way to this enormous one by saying the search for alternatives was just a side-show and that it won’t work anyway. Of course, it will be a little harder for them to do that now, given the basic scientific facts of this development. They’ll have to contend with this, for instance, from Harvard stem cell scientist Doug Melton in the New York Times:

“Anyone who is going to suggest that this is just a side show and that it won’t work is wrong,” Dr. Melton said.

I do think it’s likely that when the stem cell fight is looked at in history’s rear view mirror, this day will mark the true beginning of the end. And I also think President Bush’s comportment in this fight will be seen as a wise long-view commitment to principle in the face of horrendous and irresponsible political pressure; while that of the “Christopher Reeve will walk when we’re elected” school will be a mark of disgrace. But that doesn’t mean those will be the only chapters in the story.

A further chapter—describing the groundbreaking work of some driven and committed scientific researchers, who saw that there was both scientific and social value in what they were pursuing and who wanted to serve their society and help the sick—will be at least as prominent. And it is that chapter, not the others, that appears to be reaching its climax today. Let’s appreciate it, and let them appreciate it, before we draw conclusions on the whole. How this all plays out is not clear yet. And even how this came to be, and through what influences and pressures, is a question we probably can’t answer for now.

We do seem to have confirmation of the hope that in this instance science and ethics do not need to be opposites. For that, I think, we no longer need to “wait and see,” as we have for so long. By all rights the politics should follow. Let us wait (and work) and see if it does.