You've heard the lament by now. Embryonic stem-cell research is the Scientific Thing to do; the religious bio-Luddites standing in its way are so Middle Ages. How can they allow the continued suffering of many with so-far incurable diseases because of a moot religious speculation?
At least that's how some pundits cast the debate, some of them conveniently leaving out key distinctions. But the Devil and God both are in the details.
We see it in the August 24 Pew Research Center survey, which inadvertently reinforces a false dichotomy. Respondents were asked if it's more important to conduct stem-cell research or protect embryos—as if these were mutually exclusive options. Not even a hint that many scientists are already doing both: conducting promising stem-cell research on (adult) stem cells and not destroying embryos in the process.
Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry perpetuates similar falsehoods. In an early August radio address, he asserted that "at this very moment, some of the most pioneering cures and treatments are right at our fingertips, but because of the stem-cell ban, they remain beyond our reach." First, the soonest even the most optimistic researchers say cures can be developed is in five to ten years. Second, Bush didn't institute a "stem-cell ban." In an ethically unsatisfying move, he actually allowed federal funding for limited embryonic stem-cell research. Third, the implication that Bush's ban and Christians' opposition has to do with stem cells is a fallacy committed so frequently that it seems intentional. It's not about stem cells. It's about embryonic stem cells.
According to Mayo hematologist C. Christopher Hook, stem cells—extraordinarily flexible—can be derived from six sources: umbilical ...1
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