Tomorrow, President Obama plans to remove some of the limitations on stem cell research that were put in place by former president Bush. No doubt there will be a lot of news about it this week - but why all the fuss?!?
Let me begin by pointing out that there are many ethical (and unethical) ways to obtain and do medical research using human stem cells. Fortunately, we have people trained to wrestle with these issues (i.e. people in the fields of medical ethics and bioethics), lots of government and public oversight of this area of research, and a plethora of "watch dog" groups making sure no lines are crossed.
Unfortunately, for those who look only to their faith when it comes to questions of morality, we don't have a few thousand years of people asking the question "Is it good or bad to kill a recently fertilized oocyte?" So we look instead to the answer to the next best question: "Is it good or bad to kill human life?" This has a more clear answer, although this where the trouble starts - people have a lot of different of ideas about what "human life" means in this context.
I'll post more on this subject this week as events unfold, so for now I'll stick to my original question: why all the fuss?!
First, the general public seems to have a poor understanding of the exact nature of these limitations. I can only hope that the media, cultural and religious leaders, the scientific community, the bioethics community and the White House will do a good job of clarifying some of these details for the public.
Second, some individuals and other entities (e.g. certain extremist religious and political figures) use such controversies to try and sway the public in favor of their agendas. This has the unfortunate effect of making it to their benefit to misinform and mislead the public to those ends. Look for it this week - I'm sure there will be plenty of examples!
For more information, see the links at the bottom of this new story and my posts later this week.