‘The Stem Cell Debates: Lessons for Science and Politics’

By Paul Stark

An excellent new report, “The Stem Cell Debates: Lessons for Science and Politics,” is published in the Winter 2012 edition of The New Atlantis. It is authored by the Witherspoon Council on Ethics and the Integrity of Science, comprised of a number of distinguished scholars and scientists from institutions such as Harvard, Princeton, Stanford and Columbia.

The report is lengthy (146 pages, including endnotes) and well-documented, an up-to-date resource regarding stem cell research and its science, ethics and politics. And it is available in its entirety online at www.thenewatlantis.com/publications/number-34-winter-2012

From the preface of the report:

“In this inaugural report, the Witherspoon Council considers the proper relationship between science, ethics, and politics by examining the most prominent science-related controversy of the past decade: the stem cell debates. These debates touched on fundamental questions concerning the governance of science and the moral status of embryonic human life. More than just a scholarly assessment of those debates, this report seeks to improve the public understanding of how science and democratic politics relate, including the responsibilities of scientists and policymakers. We consider the inevitable interplay between science and ethics and the conflicts of interest that arise when scientists are both advisors to policymakers and petitioners for their allocations. Among the report’s most crucial lessons is that, in our system of participatory republican government, we are responsible for considering not only the potential benefits of scientific research but also the ethical implications of that research.”

The report covers the following:

From Discovery to Debates

Science, Policy, and Politics

The Bush Funding Policy: How Science Informed Ethics and Politics

Ten Common Misrepresentations


Embryonic stem cells are superior to adult stem cells, or adult stem cells are superior to embryonic stem cells.

Somatic cell nuclear transfer is not cloning and does not produce embryos.

As a result of the Bush funding policy, the United States fell behind other countries in stem cell research.

Opposing embryonic stem cell research means opposing cures for suffering people.

Opposition to embryonic stem cell research is a matter of religious ideology.

The Bush stem cell funding policy was an illegitimate politicization of science.

Case Studies from the Stem Cell Debates [including Ron Reagan, California’s Proposition 71, and more]

Lessons of the Stem Cell Debates

Beyond the Stem Cell Debates

In addition, lengthy and detailed appendices cover these topics:

The Science of Embryonic Stem Cell Research

The Promise of Stem Cell Therapies

Ethical Considerations Regarding Stem Cell Research

Stem Cell Research Funding: Policy and Law

Overview of International Human Embryonic Stem Cell Laws

Editor’s note. Paul Stark is Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life Communications Assistant. This appears on the MCCL blog at http://prolifemn.blogspot.com/2012/01/stem-cell-debates-lessons-for-science.html