In the NRO, I credited President Bush’s ESCR funding restrictions for having played a part into the quest to find non-embryonic sources of pluripotent stem cells–cells “the scientists” insisted they needed to fulfill the total promise of regenerative medicine. My thinking is this: Without the Bush plan and its indirect defense of the intrinsic moral value of nascent human life, the ethical issue would have long been swept aside in the stampede to create regenerative medical treatments and by now the fight would have been over federally funding human cloning research in the quest to find the “gold standard” of patient specific, tailor made ES cells.
James Thomson, while not crediting Bush, has admitted that he had qualms about using embryos. And now, Shinya Yamanaka, the Japanese researcher who first discovered the process of creating iPSCs has suggested that the importance of the embryo also played a big role in his work. From the New York Times story:
Dr. Yamanaka was an assistant professor of pharmacology doing research involving embryonic stem cells when he made the social call to the clinic about eight years ago. At the friend’s invitation, he looked down the microscope at one of the human embryos stored at the clinic. The glimpse changed his scientific career.
“When I saw the embryo, I suddenly realized there was such a small difference between it and my daughters,” said Dr. Yamanaka, 45, a father of two and now a professor at the Institute for Integrated Cell-Material Sciences at Kyoto University. “I thought, we can’t keep destroying embryos for our research. There must be another way.”
Yamanaka has said that some ES cells will continue to be needed for basic research. But that means the Bush approved lines should be up to the job.
This debate has always been larger than the sum of its parts. Had we just swept aside the moral concern of turning human life into a mere thing to be used like copper from a copper mine, I believe our society would have been changed unalterably. President Bush saw this and kept the focus on the importance of all human life. Thank goodness good scientists like Yamanaka also had moral concerns and found an ethical way to move forward.