President Obama authorized funding for federal stem cell research today – a move which his supporters are hailing as a victory for science over the vagaries of political ideology.
But is it?
Embryonic stem cell research involves fertilizing a human embryo for the express purpose of harvesting stem cells. Opponents of embryonic stem cell research would point to the moment that a human egg is fertilized by a human sperm as the moment life begins. The natural progression of an embryo, without any outside addition, is a fully grown person. That’s a medical and scientific fact.
Is the embryo life? Well, that’s less clear. Like the origin of the universe or the cause of the dinosaurs’ extinction, it’s a matter of scientific debate. As anyone who appreciates science can tell you, the answers to many questions tend to change from generation to generation. But if you do the research and you accept fertilization as the creation of life, then it’s a logical conclusion that the living entity has a set of rights. You might say it’s a truth we hold to be self-evident.
What is becoming more clear is that there are a growing number of alternatives to embryonic stem cell research – so the discussion over whether or not the research sacrifices human life is one we don’t have to worry about anymore. Or we wouldn’t, if the Obama administration hadn’t stepped in.
So if embryonic stem cell research isn’t necessary, and only raises difficult ethical questions that can be avoided with equally useful alternatives, why open the can of worms? The answer lies in the memo which accompanies the executive edict. Outside of announcing another Detroit-esque plan to fund something which is outdated and controversial, Obama takes several thinly-veiled shots at his Republican predecessor.
In other words, it’s more about politics than science.