Another nail in the coffin for embryonic stem cells, part II
Posted by sanityinjection on October 10, 2008
A couple of months ago I posted about a new technology that harvests embryonic-type stem cells from wisdom teeth, and argued that the success of this technology combined with adult stem cell research would soon make the ethical debate about harvesting embryos for stem cell research obsolete.
Now a new study published in the journal Nature indicates that stem cells harvested from testicles show the same type of flexibility:
Taken together, it is hard to see from a layman’s point of view why scientists would insist on continuing to work with new embryonic stem cell lines (obviously research should continue on lines that have already been harvested.) Further, one has to wonder why, when the ethical dilemmas associated with ebryonic stem cell research were first raised, didn’t scientists say, “OK, let’s see if there are ways around this problem”, instead of stubbornly and incorrectly insisting that *no* alternative could be found which would provide the same promise for medical research, and labeling those who opposed their research on moral grounds as religious zealots and cold-hearted fanatics.
Science can be complicated, and there are aspects of scientific research that can be very difficult for laymen to understand. But when there is an ethical issue involved, scientists ought to be able to explain it throughly in terms a layman can understand, rather than falling back on, “We’re the scientists, you’ll just have to take our word that this is the way it has to be done.”
Although there are some scientists who courageously speak up when their community is feeding disinformation to the public, too many remain silent. The issues read like a hall of shame: the heterosexual AIDS epidemic, embryonic stem cell research, global warming. No one wants to risk ostracism or having their politically-motivated grant funding taken away. But when the public policy stakes are this high, civic responsibility needs to trump self-interest. And the scientific community has to ask itself whether an atmosphere that squashes dissent and discourages debate on major controversial issues is healthy for the future of scientific research itself.