The Corner

Attacking McCain from the Right on Stem Cells

Anita Crane is quite right to criticize McCain–on federal funding for embryo-destructive research, the senator does not stand with pro-lifers. But I think she makes two mistakes in her article. She writes that McCain “is no better than Obama on embryonic stem cell research.” McCain favors a ban on the creation of human embryos in order to kill them and obtain their stem cells. Obama (like Biden) is on the other side.

Second, she criticizes McCain for supporting alternative forms of stem-cell research.

With his “skin cells” reference, McCain was pointing to the experiments by scientists who had “reprogrammed” adult skin cells into “embryo-like” stem cells and released articles on their findings last November. . . .

While many were celebrating these supposed breakthroughs, Theresa Deisher, scientist and founding researcher of AVM Biotechnology in Seattle, revealed several ethical problems in the March-April 2008 issue of Celebrate Life. Deisher wrote that kidney cells from an electively-aborted human fetus were among the ingredients used by both researchers.

And while Deisher explained that there are moral and ethical options to obtain those same reprogramming results, she still questioned the final outcome. After all, “[r]eprogrammed adult cells display this embryonic characteristic: they form fatal tumors in adults.”

James Sherley also emphasized that embryonic stem cells are incompatible with anyone other than the embryonic persons to whom they belong. 

I don’t think these objections make sense. The reprogramming of cells does not require the use of aborted fetuses; there’s no problem in principle here. The potential that these reprogrammed stem cells will form tumors is not a reason to refrain from pursuing research; it’s a reason for researching the safety issues. Finally, Sherley’s point flips an advantage of reprogrammed cells (and embryonic stem cells) into a supposed disadvantage. They don’t run the risk of tissue rejection because they can be made to match the patients genetically.

Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor for National Review, a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.

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