Meistre Obama creates goodwill as well as uproars around the world with the announcement that he is reversing the Bush administration limits on federal financing for embryonic stem cell research as part of his thrust forward for science. Stem cell research is an uncontroversial issue in the world few secular societies but have been a severe controversy not least in the USA since scientists Martin Evans, Matthew Kaufman, and Gail R. Martin in 1981 derived mouse embryonic stem cells and coined the term ”Embryonic Stem Cell”. This concept is not to be mistaken for ”Adult Stem cells”, which can be retracted out of the bone marrow of adult humans, alas, the quality of these cells are inferior to that found in embryos, therefor the controversy. Pope John Paul II in a famous speech on July 2001, addressed to GW Bush, asked for fall back of American support to stem cell research:
Experience is already showing how a tragic coarsening of consciences accompanies the assault on innocent human life in the womb, leading to accommodation and acquiescence in the face of other related evils such as euthanasia, infanticide and, most recently, proposals for the creation for research purposes of human embryos, destined to destruction in the process. (An excerpt from the Pope John Paul II’s address to President Bush at Castel Gandolfo, Italy, July 23, 2001. )
Obama now fulfills a mission started in 2005 with his vote for the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act, which proposed the conducting and supporting of research that utilizes human embryonic stem cells, regardless of the date on which the stem cells were derived from a human embryo. The controversy, basically an ontological issue has two sides as reported by the medical doctor Robin Cook: 1. how embryonic cells are created and harvested, and 2. the point at which an embryo becomes a human life. The controversy is a truely a matter of pragmatism and deontology, utilitarianism and moral faith, basically it surrounds the blastocyst, an embryo at an early stage of development, comprising around 120 undifferentiated stem cells. These cells can differentiate into any cell type, including other so called totipotent cells. So while for some the human life enters this world right after conception, for some it starts about 14 days after fertilization, when they become individualised, before that time they can develop into any sort of cell for any individual. When life actually starts, I am not the right person to argue, fo sho, but I am a certified pragmatist, thus embracing most research that develop social consequences toward the greater good – a truth as sure as anything when it comes to stem cell research.
What is important with Grandmaster Obama is not that he has philosophically more poignant arguments than had Bush for his policies (rhetorically, yes definitely!), but that after eight years, it is time to move to a different path, with more and more funding going to both the arts and science than it did during Bush. Very exciting times for the life sciences indeed let’s extract some undifferentiated stem cells and save some brains!
Reports by New York Times, Washington Post and me favorurite Scientific American