It is ironic that every time we vote on this legislation, there’s a major scientific study that says you don’t have to do stem cell research.

Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.)


Truer words were never spoken (as long as you add “embryonic” to the last three words). Even as Rahm and his buddies were pushing their umpteenth attempt to get federal funding to kick-start the Devil’s choice of embryonic stem cell research (to save a life you must take one), Japanese researchers were announcing a major breakthrough using not even uncontroversial adult stem cells but lowly skin cells.

The Kyoto University breakthrough, announced in the prestigious journal Nature and confirmed by scientists from MIT, Harvard, and UCLA transforms skin cells, one of the easiest cell types to harvest, into an embryonic state. Bypassing the difficulties of cloning and nuclear transfer (transferring the nucleus of one cell to another), Dr. Shinya Yamanaka focused on finding genes that would allow an adult cell to regress to its original primitive, pluripotent state.

And he succeeded, at least for mouse skin cells. In that case, he found just four genes which could enable this “Holy Grail” of stem cell therapy. By every test his team—or their colleagues at other institutions—can preform, these regressed cells are the full equivalent of embryonic stem cells. They seem to lack only one thing: the need to kill a tiny embryo to harvest them.

That’s the real scandal of the stem cell debate. Incredibly promising, non-controversial research is being completely neglected—even ridiculed—as the debate rages over highly controversial, difficult, and (so far) comparatively unproductive research. For no legitimate scientific reason. When Sen. Hillary Clinton said:

This is just one example of how the president puts ideology before science, politics before the needs of our families.

she was in fact the one putting ideology before science. If she were really committed to advancing science without regard for ideology, she would be supporting independent efforts to increase funding to non-embryonic stem cell research programs. That would show true leadership and an appreciation for the science involved, and could be done alongside continued efforts to override the President’s veto on embryonic research funding.

No matter what the merits of embryonic stem cell research, or the worthiness of overriding the President’s veto, why should good science go neglected? No matter which side one takes on the embryonic stem cell debate, surely everyone can agree that moving ahead with research into using other stem cells—research which doesn’t push anyone’s buttons—is a good idea?

But neither the Democrats nor their media allies seem interested in stem cell research that doesn’t involve killing humans. Consider this fine example of spin by the New York Times:

“How many more advancements in noncontroversial, ethical, adult stem cell research will it take before Congress decides to catch up with science?” said Representative Joseph R. Pitts, Republican of Pennsylvania, holding up a front-page newspaper account of the scientific discovery. “These have all of the potential and none of the controversy.”

Such techniques, if proven successful, could sidestep heated debates about the research. The technique described on Wednesday works only in mice and is unsuitable for humans. Scientists hope it will prove adaptable to human cells, but cannot say when that may happen.

True enough. But this describes nearly all stem cell research. It is the height of spin to criticize what your chosen approach shares with the alternatives. The fact is that we are merely at the beginning of stem cell research in general, and we have a long road ahead whichever road we take. Why should that be used as an argument against any promising technique?

This is why the rush to focus nearly exclusively on embryonic stem cell research is so puzzling—and troubling. In a world of limited resources, surely a case can be made to prefer promising approaches which a large portion of the population does not find abhorrent? And shouldn’t even proponents of embryonic stem cell research see the benefits of separating the two? Since one branch of stem cell research is not controversial, why not pass specific funding for it separately? Why conflate the two in the mind of the public and on the floor of the Congress. There’s only one reason: because embryonic stem cell proponents want to make it an all or nothing proposition. “Either you embrace all stem cell research—with no restrictions at all,” they seem to be saying, “or we’ll prevent funding for any research.”

And that’s why it’s the Democrats and the media who are putting “ideology before science” every time they fail to clearly distinguish embryonic stem cell research from other stem cell approaches. Considering the promise of numerous adult stem cell therapies, the Senate Democrats’ constant campaign to derail funding for it is the true scandal of the debate. And the Democrats need to be held accountable for it, and for the harm it threatens to do to those awaiting cures across the world.