Embryonic stem cell research is back on the congressional agenda. As one of their first acts in office, the newly elected Democrats have reintroduced legislation that was passed and vetoed last year, hoping to pressure the President into changing his mind. President Bush, however, has promised to veto the bill again. Nevertheless, Americans are being forced to endure a replay of last year's debate. Those who oppose the taking of innocent human lives to benefit others will be ridiculed as heartless and cruel. The spectacle promises to be nasty and grueling.
This debate is not going away. If President Bush vetoes this new bill—which was recently passed in the House and will soon come to a vote in the Senate—and if the veto is sustained, then Democrats (and their Republican accomplices, Senators Hatch, Specter, et al.) will simply reintroduce the proposal in the next Congress. They will continue to belittle ethical arguments raised in opposition to their agenda. They will complain that their opponents are Neanderthals who fear science and the progress that follows in its wake. They will insinuate that the opposition is indifferent to disease and suffering. Those with moral objections will be denigrated, disparaged, and demonized.
Of course, this time around the debate has been a little different. Last week it was reported in Nature Biotechnology that stem cells have been found in the amniotic fluid which surrounds embryos in the womb. These stem cells appear to have many of the same features as embryonic stem cells; they can develop into multiple kinds of cells, including brain, bone, and muscle cells. In addition to the fact that embryos are not killed in the process of obtaining amniotic stem cells, they show many other advantages. For example, one of the lead scientists behind the new study told the Washington Post that these cells "remain stable for years without forming tumors." This is in contrast to embryonic stem cells, which frequently produce cancerous tumors.