Scholarly Smackdown: The Stem Cell Debate

Two ethical scholars plunge into the scientific and moral divide over embryonic stem cell research.

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fund such research, and who took a good deal of criticism from many conservatives for doing so. (I well remember being one of around a dozen conservatives in a National Press Club press conference, recorded for posterity on C-SPAN, the day after Bush's speech announcing the policy. I was the only one among them who supported the president's policy; the others all in some degree or other--some flagrantly--condemned it.) For better or for worse, President Clinton did not spend one dollar of taxpayer's money on embryo research. While some states have their own laws in place, in much of the U.S. privately funded embryo research has been legal all along, and is legal today.

That is why some of us are curious to know why it is that, given the extraordinarily hyped "promise" of embryonic stem cell research in the so-called "therapeutic cloning" model, venture capitalists--who make big, bold investments if they even come close to believing such things--have voted with their feet and given the most hyped science in history a pass. That of course is why so many in the bio-academic-industrial complex are desperate for dollars to fund their careers and their businesses, and why in California they have bankrolled the most bizarre proposition in the history of American democracy: a $6 billion pre-emption of the state budget to fund something that the market--which is increasingly the key to biotechnology--has deemed worth close on zero. Wanna buy a stock option in embryo stem cell research?

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I am not saying this technology has no promise. What is clear (and what Ron Green basically admits) is that this is actually much more uncertain and much more distant than the Ron Reagan-Christopher Reeve-John Kerry rhetoric has led much of the American public to expect. Adult stem cells, on the other hand, are far more advanced in research and have a proven capacity to work in people--in disease after disease, effective clinical trials are underway. How many Americans know these facts?

How many know the truth behind Ron Reagan Jr.'s most inflammatory and dishonest statement, that research cloning was opposed only by the "theology of the few"? What if I told you that Canada outlawed exactly that practice, in March of this year? That France followed suit in July? That Germany did it years ago; Australia and Norway more recently. Which of these nations, pray, is ruled by the "theology of the few"? Does the power of the U.S. pro-life movement and what Ron Green calls its "extremism" extend to the federal governments in Ottawa and Canberra, and the whole of "Old Europe"?

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With Ronald M. Green and Nigel Cameron
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