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Still Not Satisfactory: Responding to the Stem Cell News

November 20th, 2007 | 2 min read

By Matthew Lee Anderson

The big news today was the breakthrough in stem cell research.

The short story is that a third way has been found between adult stem cells and the embroyotic stem cells, the use of which is at best morally questionable.  Wesley J. Smith is, not surprisingly, all over the story:

Two different scientific teams have "reprogrammed" skin and other adult cells and reverted them back to a pluripotent stem cell state. (The altered cells are being called "Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells" or iPS.)...This puts a stake through the heart of therapeutic cloning. The justification for cloning human embryos, we were told, was to obtain "tailored" pluripotent stem cells from individual patients with specific diseases and disabilities. Well, that is precisely what reprogramming can do--with no need to exploit women for their eggs, no need for creating and destroying embryos, and no need to ban implantation.

It's a remarkable development, and one that should be hailed by both those sides of the ethical debate.  Not surprisingly, however, those in favor of using embroytic stem cells are less enthusiastic about the announcement than one might expect.  Sean Tipton, the President of the Coalition for the Advancement of Medical Research (who make their online home at ""), is clearly unenthusiastic about the new possibilities the announcement has opened up.
Clearly, there are deeper issues at play in the debate over stem cells than science and its deliveries.  Joseph Bottum is typically insightful on this score:

But there were reasons for all the hype. I have long suspected that science, in the context of the editorial page of the New York Times, was simply a stalking-horse for something else. In fact, for two something-elses: a chance to discredit America’s religious believers and an opportunity to put yet another hedge around the legalization of abortion. After all, if our very health depends on the death of embryos, and we live in a culture that routinely destroys early human life in the laboratory, no grounds could exist for objecting to abortion.

The problem, then, is an ideology that will sacrifice even the deliveries of science for its own self-interest and right to choose.  And that is an ideology that won't--can't--be erased by any new scientific discovery.

Matthew Lee Anderson

Matthew Lee Anderson is an Associate Professor of Ethics and Theology in Baylor University's Honors College. He has a D.Phil. in Christian Ethics from Oxford University, and is a Perpetual Member of Biola University's Torrey Honors College. In 2005, he founded Mere Orthodoxy.