- BIOETHICS FORUM ESSAY
A Stem Cell Compromise?
In a Forum essay on April 4, commentator Jesse Reynolds heralded the use of induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS cells) as an advance that could end the stem cell wars, but warns against the extremists on both sides who are more interested in seeing the battle continue than in reaching a sensible solution. He writes, “Advocates of stem cell research are downplaying iPS cells as ‘hype’ after years of routinely exaggerating the potential of embryonic stem cells. Responding to commentators who voice hopes that the stem cell wars could be drawing to a close, these enthusiasts have focused on the shortcomings and early stage of research with iPS cells while ignoring the many remaining uncertainties of embryonic stem cells.”
It surely is hype to maintain that we already have an alternative to human embryonic stem cells for purposes of research and possible therapy. No one yet knows if iPS cells will prove as malleable as embryonic stem cells have already proved to be, while there are serious safety considerations that will need to be resolved before iPS cells could be tried in human beings. All of this Reynolds grants. Why, then, does he tar those who make this claim as “extremists”?
Reynolds then goes on to cite approvingly Kass’s call for a moratorium on hESC research for four or five years to give iPS research a chance to mature and, hopefully, make research on human embryos unnecessary. He writes, “But if iPS does not fulfill its potential, then Kass is implying that he would find cloning for research acceptable, as long reproductive cloning is prohibited.”
If this were actually what Kass said, it might seem to be a viable compromise. Those supporting embryonic stem cell research give up four to five years of potential promise in return for a willingness on the part of opponents to accept cloned embryos for research purposes if iPS research doesn’t fulfill its promise. But what Kass actually said was very different:
Clearly, Kass thinks that “the latest science” already shows that it is unnecessary to create embryos for research. This being the case, it’s not clear why he calls for a moratorium, as opposed to an outright ban, at all – unless it’s to give the appearance of a compromise where none exists. Research on both hES and iPS cells should continue until we learn which (if either) is useful in the treatment of disease. That’s not extremist. It’s what’s called for by the science.