While reading the paper, my airline seatmate blurted out to no one in particular, "They don't get it—it's not about 'ethics'! This stem cell thing is a no-brainer. What matters is people are dying and we need to do all we can to help." The woman next to me put down her book, stared at him for a moment, and gently said, "It's all about ethics, the ethics of killing children."
When it comes to the issue of using embryonic stem cells for research into new pathways of healing for the severely afflicted, emotions on both sides run high. If the rhetoric is to be trusted, the debate over embryonic stem cell research is a pitched battle between two irreconcilable positions—those who value the life of a tiny cluster of newly fertilized cells vs. those who value the needs of the suffering now. Bumper sticker slogans are lobbed across the ideological battlefield like hand grenades.
Part of the problem is the changing status of the science. New avenues of research, for example, have touted the use of other types of stem cells, such as stem cells from umbilical cord blood. These promising advances, however, at this stage do not diminish the potential utility of the embryonic stem cell. With all the hope other sources of stem cells bring, we cannot ignore the source that is currently the most promising.