The God squad has been vigorously (not to say viciously) opposed to the old-fashioned way of producing such cells, because embryos 10-14 days after conception would be destroyed in the process of extracting pluripotent stem cells. In God's mind this was terrible research, because according to God's representatives down here on earth these cell accumulations (called embryos) should be treated as if they were persons. Well, a few hundred cells don't display any of the dispositions we'd usually require to be present for a given entity to be called a person. God doesn't seem to know this. I tried to contact God for some time, but there doesn't seem to be any email details available to engage God in a discussion about God's views on embryo research. God's earthly representatives only refer to God's authority to explain why embryos - at whatever developmental stage - must not be destroyed. So, a serious argument about the ethics or otherwise of the matter could never be had, because the authority driving so much of the 'holy embryo' stance remains somewhat elusive.
As I write this the religious commentators claim that their ethical stance has been 'winning' on this matter, and science showing how 'right' they were all along. This is remarkable for several reasons:
- First off, it's highly unusual for this particular group of people to respect science at all - well, unless it supports their slightly warped view of the world (where evolution didn't take place, and where we humans - helped ever so slightly by, you guessed it, 'God' - popped into existence just a few thousand years ago). So I doubt they're well advised to suddenly pick scientific progress of the sorts explained above as proof of the truth of their ethical stance. After all, what are they going to do next time science contradicts their view of the world. Scientific truth is not really a pick-and-choose type activity. They can't have their cake and eat it, I'd think.
- Secondly, the research in question, good news as it is, suffers some serious drawbacks at the moment, including a higher risk of cancer in mice in which pluripotent cells that were derived by the new method were implanted. This drawback might be temporary, time will tell.
- Thirdly, most scientists working in the field still agree that we will not be able to progress significantly without some form of destructive embryonic research continuing. In other words, pretending that the ethics wars over the moral status of embryos have suddenly concluded due to a new 'ethical' method of producing pluripotent cells having been found is grossly misleading.
I am somewhat disappointed that those high-profile ethicists who campaigned in favor of destructive embryonic stem cell research (while there seemed no viable scientific alternative) have been awkwardly silent in their response to these new findings. The truth is, however, that the position they held at the time was correct. If scientific progress permits us now to achieve the same objective without destroying embryos, that's excellent news and should be applauded by them, too. The reason for this is not at all, of course, that the 'holy embryo' crowd was right all along, but rather, that crucial biomedical research can now progress much faster without God's earthly troopers interfering a great deal. That's great news and more than enough reason to applaud the new developments!