In 1798, Thomas R. Malthus published the highly influential An Essay on the Principle of Population. The book’s premise was that population, if allowed to grow unchecked, would double every 25 years, while food supplies would increase more slowly. Unless this geometric progression was interrupted, Malthus famously predicted, sooner or later the population would outstrip food supply and there would be massive starvation.
The Malthusian growth model underestimated the human mind. But its bleak projections about massive starvation were a driving force behind, among other advances, the development of innovative farming methods, including better drainage systems and sophisticated crop rotation techniques, that increased agricultural productivity exponentially and made substantial food supplies available to support a growing world population.
The point, of course, is that human ingenuity, when given the proper incentives, knows no bounds.
Fast forward to August 9, 2001. On that day, President Bush issued an executive order limiting the federal funding of embryonic stem-cell research to existing lines. The political Left howled about the outright “ban” on stem-cell research, even though the order simply limited taxpayer funding of embryo research. But, as several experts noted at the time, the ethical boundaries set up by President Bush in 2001 provided stem-cell scientists with the incentive necessary to develop innovative and morally acceptable methods of research. Some scientists focused their efforts on adult stem-cell research, which, in the intervening six years, has produced cures and treatments for more than 80 diseases and ailments.
Other researchers focused their efforts on finding ways of deriving human embryonic stem-cells without destroying human life. Recently, the world learned that independent teams of researchers in Wisconsin and Japan have done just that by re-programming adult cells to behave like embryonic stem-cells, allowing them to grow and potentially turn into any type of body tissue. Experts say that this new method will remove the demand for destroying human embryos for research; in fact, the new method, scientists insist, may prove more effective than the embryo-destroying research was ever supposed to be.
But don’t take my word for it. Leading lights of the stem-cell research community are lauding the discovery. Sir Martin Evans, a British stem-cell pioneer who shared this year’s Nobel Prize for medicine, said of the new method: “This is going to be the way forward. We’ve all been waiting for this.” Robert Blelloch, a stem-cell biologist at the University of California at San Francisco, told the Wall Street Journal: “The wonderful thing about this approach is that it’s easy. You’re going to see lots of labs give it a try,”
And Ian Wilmut, who became the world’s most famous biological researcher when he cloned Dolly the sheep over a decade ago, was so impressed with the new results that he’s giving up cloning in favor of the new approach, telling the Wall Street Journal, “It seems we should all focus our efforts on reprogramming.”
Even University of Wisconsin stem-cell scientist Dr. James Thomson, who was the first to isolate embryonic stem-cells ten years ago and one of the scientists who discovered the new method, thinks the new approach is superior, because, as he told the New York Times: “If human embryonic stem-cell research does not make you at least a little bit uncomfortable, you have not thought about it enough.”
You might assume, given the developing consensus among researchers about the scientific and ethical superiority of the new stem-cell research, that our politicians would be falling over one another to praise the discovery. If so, you’re half right. Pro-life politicians, those who cautioned against life-destroying embryonic stem-cell research while urging the development of life-affirming alternatives, have issued press statements and offered remarks praising the new research.
But those politicians who were the most vocal supporters of public funding for embryo research have been conspicuously silent about the new technique. And even those who have commented have done so only again to push life-destroying research. Iowa Democratic Senator Tom Harkin said, “Scientists may yet find that embryonic stem-cells are more powerful.” Rep. Diana DeGette, D-CO, who sponsored two bills to lift restrictions on federal funding of embryonic stem-cell research, both of which Bush vetoed, said, "I really don’t think it changes the nature of the debate at all. I welcome this new announcement… but it doesn’t replace embryonic stem-cell research. I think we should support all ethical research that could lead to the cure for diseases."
DeGette, who was hired this week as a stem-cell advisor by Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, also said, “The argument that we need to have all types of ethical research is the argument that sways voters. The White House and the opponents of stem cell research have been saying for years that they think adult stem-cells are substitutes. This is not a new argument that they’re making.”
The Left’s reaction to the stem-cell breakthrough reveal how beholden liberal politicians are to the abortion lobby and how invested they have become in the stem-cell wars.
Liberals need to support research that destroys nascent human life for the purpose of searching for medical treatments because if they did not, they would have a more difficult time justifying their support for abortion, the destruction of more developed human life for often less palatable reasons.
Politically, stem-cell research was supposed to be the one life issue that worked in the Democrats’ favor, as polls showed a majority of the electorate favored federal funding of embryonic stem-cell research. Now, it’s a blow to Democrats that, as Karl Zinsmeister, President Bush’s domestic policy chief, said after the new discoveries, “What seems to be happening is that science is overtaking politics and making a lot of political arguments irrelevant.”
President Bush was branded “anti-science” for placing restrictions on taxpayer-funded embryonic stem-cell research in 2001. But, like the anti-Malthusians of yore, Bush understood that when faced with the prospect of humanity’s demise, human ingenuity will always find a better way.