Thursday, May 26, 2005

Ethical Stem Cell Research: A New Solution?

For critics of embryonic stem cell research such as myself, the criticism is one of means, not ends. If ethical means of stem cell therapy can be found -- such as adult-derived rather than embryo-derived stem cells -- I have no problem with their application, and may even benefit from it personally.

That there may be several such approaches to stem cell research that avoid ethical problems is suggested by this Wired article on the research of William Hurlbut. Hurlbut proposes using modified embryonic cells that will provide stem cells but lack the inherent potential to continue developing and thus die of "natural causes" early on. As the article points out, this is not without possible ethical questions, but it's encouraging to me because it suggests with a little bit of imagination and ingenuity, we can design methods that make potential therapies possible to do without compromising ourselves ethically.

Provided the will is there, of course. The one disturbing note in the article is the fact that opposition to Hurlbut's proposal is coming from scientists themselves. Perhaps accusing them of being ideologically and self-servingly motivated on this issue is unfair, but it does make me wonder how much of researchers' rhetoric about "wanting to help people" is honest given that they torpedo alternate approaches that may in fact get such therapies to the public faster and with less political violence.

But all in all, positive news.

[Would it be too vulgar to say, "Go kick ass, Dr. Hurlbut?" No, but you would be guilty of a very punny crime -- Ed.]

UPDATE: Hey Virginia, check out what this blockhead has to say:
"Many people believe human life -- a person -- begins in a woman's uterus, in the mother's womb, not in a Petri dish or a test tube," [stem cell researcher] Lanza said in an e-mail.
Kind of proves my point, eh Postrel?


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