With his recent encouragement to Congress to ban human cloning, President Bush is sure to come under the fire of the scientific research community and a media that wants nothing to stand in the way of the progress of science towards "future cures." The development of stem cells derived from adult skin cells in late-2007 provided hope for the pro-life argument in the field of bioethics. Human lives may yet be saved despite the rampant disregard shown by much of the American public.
As President Bush explained in his State of the Union address, scientists recently "discovered a way to reprogram adult skin cells to act like embryonic stem cells." This development holds the promise of new, ethical research and may eliminate the "need" for research that destroys embryos, produces clones, or harvests women's eggs. These adult stem cells provide hope for human life in a culture that seems willing to destroy its young to heal its old.
This willingness to destroy life began when scientists clamored for funding and attention as they explored the potential of embryonic stem cells. The media and many politicians were only too happy to oblige, trumpeting the "promises" of embryonic stem cells long before anything was actually tested. Moreover, any resistance to the idea of leaping into embryonic stem cell research was immediately labeled "ramblings of the religious right" and promptly dismissed.
This hasty move dismissed the need for care and wisdom in medical ethics, but that's not surprising in a culture that kills millions of its own when they become "inconvenient." If we can kill the unborn because they are inconvenient, why not kill even younger humans if they can provide us with cures for diseases?
No one proclaims the fact that embryonic stem cell research has yet to provide one approved treatment. The research moves forward on the basis of hope. Ethical and fiscal concerns are ignored on the basis of hope—hope that old humans will one day be able to harvest cures from the lives of small, young humans.
Thankfully, science itself has provided a practical hope for those who find their culture's embrace of death deplorable. In September, Toronto researchers used stem cells derived from skin cells to treat the spinal cords of rats. These cells, termed induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs), have most of the same characteristics as embryonic stem cells, but forming them does not require the destruction of embryos. In November, James Thomson, a Wisconsin scientist, was able to do produce the same pluripotent stem cells from human cells.