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Sidestepping the Ethics of Stem Cell Research

November 21st, 2007     by Stacey May Fowles     Comments

When I opened my front door this morning the following headline greeted me from the cover of The Toronto Star: The ‘Ethical’ Cell is Born.” My knee-jerk reaction was one of rage, the focus of my anger the perceived irresponsibility of the paper in printing a headline that passed such an obvious moral judgment on the ethics of stem cell research - admittedly, I missed the quotes around the word ethical.

The front page news is this: scientists have discovered a way to make ordinary human skin cells behave like powerful embryonic stem cells. The “ethics” referred to in the headline are those around the controversial use of existing human embryos and cloning techniques that have clouded the development of the revolutionary and lifesaving research to date.

For President Bush and other opponents of human embryonic stem cell research, this good news has become a matter of “we told you so:” “By avoiding techniques that destroy life, while vigorously supporting alternative approaches, President Bush is encouraging scientific advancement within ethical boundaries,” the White House statement said.

“We should all give credit to President Bush for challenging our nation to find a solution,” said William Hurlbut, a physician and consulting professor at Stanford University Medical Center who serves on Bush’s bioethics panel.

While those kinds of self-congratualatory statements enrage me, this breakthrough is certainly worthy of its front page placement.

It’s much too early to see if this development will have the same kind of powerful results as its embryonic predecessor, but overall today’s news means that the political, moral and ethical discussions around this life-saving research could eventually be no more. Most importantly, more important than any debate on ‘ethics,’ it means the Anti-choice rhetoric that set up research road blocks can end and the benefits of this research can reach everyone necessary without argument:

…abortion opponents were quick to embrace the technique, described in research released Tuesday by the journals Cell and Science, and hailed the results as evidence that embryo-destroying research is no longer necessary.

Tags: news flash

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