A Stem Cell Canard Returns!


In the National Review Kathryn Jean Lopez is touting, once again, adult-stem-cell research as the wave of the future, arguing that “embryonic-stem-cell is not the only hope for mankind,” and hence, there’s no need to pursue it. After all, adult stem cells are already being used for a variety of cures, whereas no one has ever been healed by embryonic stem cells. Well, okay, but nothing here logically rules out the future utility or even necessity of embryonic cells. Obviously the best thing to do from a scientific standpoint would be to pursue both—which, as it happens, is exactly what the International Society for Stem Cell Research has recommended.

Lopez then cites the pro-adult-stem-cell work of Michael Fumento, whose work on stem cell research was reviewed in Nature Biotech thusly:

The imprint of Fumento’s worldview is also evident in his chapter on stem cell research. It is clear that he finds embryonic stem cell research morally problematic. Yet, according to Fumento, the ethical dilemma over funding for embryo research could be rendered obsolete if focus were placed instead on adult stem cell research. Starting with the answer that adult stem cell research is good and embryonic stem cell research is bad, Fumento devotes his chapter on the topic to arguing that only adult stem cell research offers the potential for treatments and cures within the next few years, whereas much doubt clouds the possibility for success with embryonic research.

He also attempts to debunk the claim that adult stem cells are more limited in their plasticity than their embryonic counterparts, and argues that adult stem cells “may be superior in all ways.” Fumento insists that the embryonic stem cell research movement has been spearheaded by scientists with strong economic ties to the research, and that both journalists and politicians have been hoodwinked by the appeals of these scientists and their “disinformation” campaign.

Okay, so Fumento seems less a dispassionate scientist and more of an ideologue, but that doesn’t mean he’s wrong about everything. But it’s also a bit silly to ignore the strong scientific case for embryonic stem cell research: namely, that they are far more plastic than adult stem cells, can be used to generate any tissue in the body, and hence may one day be far more useful for curing degenerative diseases. Adult stem cells are almost certainly not “superior in all ways,” although a slew of right-wing researchers keep trumpeting shoddy results to try to prove otherwise. At any rate, the point here is that Lopez morally disapproves of embryonic-stem-cell research. Well, fine, but that’s no excuse for pretending to have scientific “evidence” to back up those vague moral feelings.

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