In an apparent effort to advance the stem cell research debate, the Globe today published a "Spotlight on Stem Cells" consisting of three op-eds by respected personalities. But they all stink, for different reasons.
Harvard political philosopher Michael J. Sandel makes two points. He spends most of his piece arguing that Governor Romney’s "position" – that it’s OK to conduct research on "surplus" embryos from fertility clinics, but not OK to create embryos through somatic cell nuclear transfer (therapeutic cloning) – makes no sense. Well, duh. We’ve been saying that for weeks. It’s a no-brainer. The bigger, much more important ethical issue is whether human embryos, however created, should be used for research purposes. Sandel’s only comment on that issue is that it "raises hard questions." Thanks, perfesser. Sandel’s second point is that regulations banning reproductive cloning, limiting how long embryos can be grown in the lab, and preventing the exploitation of women, are a good idea. Again, duh. Didn’t need a Harvard prof to tell me that.
Harvard President Lawrence H. Summers argues that the stem cell bill is good for the Massachusetts research community and good for the economy. But no one seriously disputes that. And although Summers says he is "aware of and respect[s] the concerns some have about stem cell research," his only answer is that Harvard et al. will abide by internal and external "elaborate safeguards" designed to "ensure that research is conducted ethically." This, of course, misses the point completely. Those who oppose embryonic stem cell research on principled grounds (unlike our Governor) oppose it because they believe it cannot be conducted ethically under any circumstances, at least when it involves the creation and/or destruction of human embryos. Summers’ only response to that is that "human embryonic stem cell research, once it becomes more prevalent, will become almost universally accepted." That obviously is no answer. Just because everyone is doing it doesn’t make it right.
Finally, state rep. Bradley H. Jones, Jr. (R-N. Reading) parrots Romney’s position – OK to use "surplus" embryos from fertility clinics, but not OK to use embryos created via somatic cell nuclear transfer. But he never even acknowledges, much less engages, the glaring fallacies inherent in that position (which, as noted above, we’ve already discussed several times). So his op-ed, too, fails to advance the debate.
Overall, a huge missed opportunity by the Globe. When the editors saw the quality of these submissions, they should have sent them all back. The only way to really understand what’s at stake in this debate is to talk about the science (i.e., what somatic cell nuclear transfer really is), and then talk about whether the science is ethical. None of these op-eds even comes close.