The president's policy recognized that this might cause problems. The existing lines might dry up, prove inadequate or become corrupted. Bush therefore appointed a President's Council on Bioethics to oversee ongoing stem cell research and evaluate how his restrictions were affecting research and what means might be found to circumvent ethical obstacles.
More vilification. The mainstream media and the scientific establishment saw this as a smokescreen to cover his fundamentalist, obscurantist, anti-scientific -- the list of adjectives was endless -- tracks. "Some observers," wrote The Washington Post's Rick Weiss, "say the president's council is politically stacked."
I sat on the council for five years. It was one of the most ideologically balanced bioethics commission in the history of this country. It consisted of scientists, ethicists, theologians, philosophers, physicians -- and others (James Q. Wilson, Francis Fukuyama and me among them) of a secular bent not committed to one school or the other.
That balance of composition was reflected in the balance in the reports issued by the council -- documents of sophistication and nuance that reflected the divisions both within the council and within the nation in a way that respectfully presented the views of all sides. One recommendation was to support research that might produce stem cells through "de-differentiation" of adult cells, thus bypassing the creation of human embryos.
That Holy Grail has now been achieved. Largely because of the genius of Thomson and Yamanaka. And also because of the astonishing good fortune that nature requires only four injected genes to turn an ordinary adult skin cell into a magical stem cell that can become bone or brain or heart or liver.
But for one more reason as well. Because the moral disquiet that James Thomson always felt -- and that George Bush forced the country to confront -- helped lead him and others to find some ethically neutral way to produce stem cells. Providence then saw to it that the technique be so elegant and beautiful that scientific reasons alone will now incline even the most willful researchers to leave the human embryo alone.
Charles Krauthammer is a 1987 Pulitzer Prize winner, 1984 National Magazine Award winner, and a columnist for The Washington Post since 1985.
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