President Obama has fulfilled at least one promise. He has made it easier to use embryonic stem cells for research. Unfortunately, embryonic stem cells have been a dead end for researchers – an inconvenient fact the Washington Post did not feel necessary to report in a July 7 article by Shankar Vedantam.
“[T]he NIH said it will allow the use of any existing stem cell line that was created ethically,” Vedantam wrote. “The embryo that was destroyed to create a line must have been discarded after an in vitro fertilization procedure, and the donors must have been informed that the embryo would be destroyed for stem cell research and made fully cognizant of their choices, including donating the embryo to another couple who want a baby. No donors could have been paid for an embryo, and no threats or inducements could have been used to nudge couples toward making a donation.” He does not question these weak guidelines and just accepts them as ethical.
Vedantam reminded readers that Obama “cited the promise of stem cell research in finding cures for disorders that have so far proved intractable,” but he failed to mention that no cures or benefits have come from embryonic stem cells, while adult stem cell research has produced at least 73 advances – without destroying a human life. Ethics aside, Vedantam did not question the decision to allow federal funding of an unsuccessful venture..
“Stem cells have been widely hailed as a research tool that could one day lead to cures for many illnesses,” Vedantam wrote. The only mention of adult stem cells was, “More recently, scientists have managed to obtain stem cells from adult cells, a process that does not require the destruction of an embryo. Critics of stem cell research prefer that the field be restricted to non-embryonic stem cells; advocates for the research say that this would stymie the field's medical potential.”
The article did quote Richard Doerflinger of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, who opposes the destruction of embryos: “For the first time in history, the federal government will encourage the destruction of human life at a very early stage for federally funded research…These guidelines encourage researchers to go out and destroy embryos for taxpayer-funded research. . . . You and I were once human embryos, and each embryo has the inherent potential to grow into you and me." The quote came in the last paragraph of the article.