Spokespeople for President Bush are hailing yesterday's announcement that human stem cells have been produced from skin cells that were dosed with 4 different genes as evidence of the President's ethical wisdom. White House spokesperson Dana Perino declared:
"By avoiding techniques that destroy life, while vigorously supporting alternative approaches, President Bush is encouraging scientific advancement within ethical boundaries."
Bush's chief domestic policy advisor, Karl Zinsmeister observed:
"The science has overtaken the politics. If you set reasonable parameters and offer a lot of encouragement and public funding, science will solve this dilemma, and you don't have to have a culture war about this."
Pro-life advocates agreed. Richard Doerflinger, deputy director of anti-abortion activities for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops called the research
"…a very significant breakthrough in finding morally unproblematic alternatives to cloning."
"I think this is something that would be readily acceptable to Catholics."
Not so fast with the moral self-congratulation, says James Thomson, one of the researchers who made this advance. As the Chicago Tribune reports:
Thomson, who co-discovered human embryonic stem cells in 1998, said political barriers have hindered all such work and stressed that the new research would not have been possible without insights gained from embryonic cells.
"My feeling is that the political controversy set the field back about four to five years," Thomson said. He credited Bush with providing some funds for the field starting in 2001 but said Bush's funding limits "represented very bad public policy as far as I'm concerned. The field has been much slower taking off than it would have been otherwise.
I do wonder how will pro-lifers feel about using stem cell treatments that were developed by methods that they find morally objectionable? Fortunately for future generations, the Roman Catholic Church does apparently believe that it is moral to use vaccines produced using human fetal cells.
Let's all hope this is a true breakthrough for producing perfectly matched cells and tissues suitable for transplantation. After all, skin cells are a lot easier and cheaper to get than are the human eggs used in therapeutic cloning research.