Ross Douthat and Matthew Franck have both offered good responses to Ronald Green’s extraordinarily silly op-ed offering the President-Elect some advice about stem cells. Green somehow imagines that the way to diffuse opposition to the destruction of embryos is to do exactly what the opponents oppose, and so he proposes to Obama that he have the NIH “invite” parents whose IVF embryos are frozen to donate those embryos to research so that they could be destroyed for their cells. Green suggests this is some kind of middle ground, but in reality his proposal would actually go further than the two stem cell bills President Bush has vetoed in the past few years, which would have allowed funding for research on cells from embryos donated for research (and so would have created a taxpayer-funded incentive for the destruction of embryos), but would not have had the government actually approach parents who had not decided to give away their embryos for research and invite them to do so. Green’s op-ed is confused and ill-informed from top to bottom, and of course as usual it simply ignores the substance of the ethical dispute surrounding the taking of human life for research—a dispute which, as I argue in my new book on science and politics, is fundamentally about the American commitment to human equality.
The real common ground in this debate is emerging in the increasingly successful efforts to develop cells with the abilities and characteristics of embryonic stem cells but without the need to use or destroy human embryos. But every indication so far certainly suggests that Obama’s approach will be closer to Green’s than to President Bush’s attempts to reach and expand that common ground.