George Will on stem cell research

Date: Thu Jan 20 2000 - 10:37:25 MST

Conservative columnist George Will writes today about the controversy
over using aborted fetus cells in stem cell research.
(That URL probably won't last long.)

He actually takes a rather mild view, complaining that the public
university doing this is not taking into consideration the feelings of a
substantial portion of the public. He then goes on to discuss the future:

> In 10 to 15 years, Smith surmises, scientists will be able to take a cell
> from an individual's skin, de-differentiate it, and manipulate it into
> a source for various living tissues. In fact, last month researchers at
> the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston reported that undifferentiated
> cells from muscles of adult mice have a "remarkable capacity" to be
> transformed into blood cells.
> [...]
> President Smith assumes, plausibly, that mature human cells soon will
> have, with an assist from science, this capacity. Certainly what seems
> remarkable in one decade becomes routine in the next.
> A disquieting era of genetic manipulation is coming, one that may
> revolutionize human capacities, and notions of health. If we treat moral
> scruples impatiently, as inherently retrograde in a scientifically
> advancing civilization, we will not be in moral trim when--soon--our
> very humanity depends on our being in trim.

Unfortunately Will takes up most of his space explaining the current
controversy, without elaborating on his cryptic last paragraph. What does
it mean to be in "moral trim", such that our very humanity depends on it?

One would think that the ability to turn mature cells into stem cells
(what Will calls "undifferentiated" cells) would actually help with the
moral dilemma. There would no longer be a need to use aborted fetuses
for medical research or even medical therapy. Right to lifers would
not have to balance the evil of promoting abortion against the good of
life-enhancing medical treatments from stem cells.

Will wrote last June about post-humanism in He is
a representative of "old school" conservatism (a conservative approach to
conservatism, as compared to the radical fire-breathing conservatives).
As such he may be a bridge between the extremists on the far right and
the technologists who are carrying us forward.


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