Adult Stem Cells

ADULT STEM CELLS….Over at The Corner, today’s big news about stem cells derived from adult skin cells is a hot topic of conversation. But I’m a little mystified. This morning, after Yuval Levin wrote a post lauding the discovery and suggesting that it might end the stem cell debate once and for all, he got this response from Ramesh Ponnuru:

Yuval is right: It’s not a time for gloating. For one thing, we shouldn’t get ahead of ourselves in estimating the political impact of this breakthrough: We should wait at least a few days to see how the advocates of embryo-destructive stem-cell research react before concluding that the battle is over. (In the past, they have done what they could to minimize the potential of non-lethal methods of deriving pluripotent stem cells.)

I realize that we all have a tendency to demonize our political opponents, but this is crazy. Ponnuru seems to be implying that there’s some sizable contingent on the left that prefers embryonic research for its own sake and will keep fighting for it even if this new approach proves itself completely successful. But why? Inertia? Political bloody mindedness? A demonic delight in destroying embryos for its own sake?

I guess we’ll have to wait and see — though it’s going to take more than a few days, since even the researchers working on the new skin-cell method admit that their technique isn’t suitable for human experimentation yet. But in the past, my take is that those of us who minimized the potential of non-lethal methods of deriving pluripotent stem cells did so because, in fact, those methods really were clearly inferior to embryonic methods. If, by contrast, this new method proves itself to genuinely be the holy grail of stem cell research, I assume everyone will sing huzzahs and go back to arguing about something else.

Or maybe not. We’ll see. But for now I’m putting my money on the non-cardboard cutout version of my fellow liberals.

UPDATE: Of course, I suppose there are different interpretations of what it takes to declare that “the battle is over.” If the skin cell technique really works out, I’d be happy to channel federal funding solely in that direction because, after all, why not? We’ve got plenty of other stuff to fight about and who needs the grief? On the other hand, since I continue to believe that embryos aren’t human persons in any but the most logic-chopping sense, I certainly wouldn’t support a general ban on embryonic research, which likely has uses beyond merely generating stem cells, any more than I’d support a ban on fertility clinics that kill human eggs by the thousands. If that’s what it takes for the battle to be over, then I guess it probably won’t be any time soon.

UPDATE: Ponnuru responds here. My response: If that’s what he meant, fine. But it’s just not what his original post either said or implied.