Just a few months after the first human stem-cell experiments, President Clinton assigned his board of bioethics advisors, the National Bioethics Advisory Commission (NBAC), to consider the issues involved. Their report, published in 1999, has helped ever since to define the Democrats’ approach to the issue. In light of the headlines today about a new way to produce stem cells without destroying embryos, that report is worth another look.
The commission made a point of taking into account the ethical issues raised by embryo-destructive research. “In our judgment,” the report concluded, “the derivation of stem cells from embryos remaining following infertility treatments is justifiable only if no less morally problematic alternatives are available for advancing the research.”
At the time, there were no such alternatives. The NBAC’s conclusion was taken (and certainly intended) as an endorsement of embryo-destructive stem-cell research, which quickly became the view of the Clinton administration and of American liberals more generally. But the big stem-cell story of the past two years has been the emergence of precisely those “less morally problematic alternatives” imagined by the commission. ...
Developments like the one making news today could (in time) mean the end of the stem-cell debate, and an end that lets everyone win: the research would advance without human embryos being harmed. In light of the news this morning, it’s time for the Democrats to rediscover the long-forgotten last clause of the Clinton commission’s stem-cell recommendation.
This is likely to be the line of those opposing rapid expansion of stem-cell research in the US. That parenthetical "in time" qualifier is the kicker, though. Could be quite a while.