Human Exceptionalism

Embryonic Stem Cell Lines Without Destroying Embryos

Advanced Cell Technology made huge international headlines last year by claiming to have created embryonic stem cell lines without destroying embryos. That announcement–typical of ACT PR–was way overblown. It turned out to be a modest proof of principle type experiment that had destroyed every embryo used.

Now, the company claims to have really, really done it–created ES cell lines from one cell taken from an early embryo, and then returning it to the deep freeze as a viable embryo that could later be implanted. (This is the same technique used in pre-implantation genetic diagnosis.)

Of course, with ACT everything is about the money and Robert Lanza immediately demanded that Bush fund this alternative method of obtaining pluripotent stem cells as the NIH has funded cell regression from ordinary skin cells. (Also note the story describes ACT as Massachusetts-based. That is true. But when ACT wants money from Proposition 71’s coffers of borrowed funds, it somehow is always described as “California-based. But I digress.) From the story:

Dr. Robert Lanza, ACT’s scientific director, said it provides a way to create mass quantities of embryonic stem cells without harming a human embryo. Current stem cell technologies require the embryo’s destruction.”This is a working technology that exists here and now. It could be used to increase the number of stem cell lines available to federal researchers immediately,” Lanza said by e-mail. “We could send these cells out to researchers tomorrow.”

I don’t know about that. With ACT we always have to wait and see. But the clear connection in Lanza’s mind between creating non-destructive embryonic stem cell research techniques and Bush’s funding policy demonstrates that Bush pushed this research into more ethical ways it never would have gone had he merely acquiesced to “the scientists” demands. Indeed, if this technique is feasible and moral, it is at least in part, a George W. Bush triumph. Without his leadership, we might be federally funding human cloning research by now.

What does this mean in the longer term? With non-destructive techniques coming on board, the time has come to turn our attention to another moral parameter that needs to be put in place around the power of biotechnology: Prohibit the creation of human embryos solely for the purpose of using them in research.


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