This Tuesday, President Bush pledged to veto the Castle Bill, which would expand public financing of stem cell research, recently passed in the House and now vocally endorsed by Republican Senate Leader Bill Frist. While the nation waits for the federal government to determine the ethics of medical research for the American people, check out William Saletan's five-part series The Organ Factory.
Saletan metes out the facts and physics of stem cell research while advocating for the extension of an arbitrary 14-day time limit on embryonic stem cell research projects, thus allowing further research on growing replacement organ tissue. According to the studies he discusses, growing most in demand organ tissues from cultivated clones would require only six to seven weeks, two weeks before the prerequisite nervous system needed for brain functioning.
Of course, when it comes to the ethical and existential questions that arise around cloning, people look to artistic imagination no less than scientific investigation. The newly-released The Island—a sci-fi action film about clones produced for spare parts so socialites can cheat death with the ultimate insurance policy—may be the latest would-be summer blockbuster to flop hard, but it's still an ideological crowd-pleaser for stem cell antagonists. I enjoyed the film for other reasons. Although the sci-fi takes liberties with the realities of biology and technology, its gloriously rebellious tale of cloned "insurance policies" pressing for rights to their own individuality and freedom will grip those with a soft-spot for liberation stories. They want the bacon when health experts serve them oatmeal, a blue suit when they get a gray. And their escape from that island is a cathartic journey we can join in on, even if the film's larger critique of cloning for organs doesn't address the scientific technology that would almost certainly provide such benefits without requiring the growth of a sentient being, or even one endowed with a nervous system.
Reason has made serious forays into the debate over stem-cell research and its possible benefits since it began, and you can check out a compendium of Reason coverage of stem-cell research and cloning; or just buy Ron Bailey's new book Liberation Biology.