Last month, University of Wisconsin professor James Thomson — the first scientist to successfully isolate embryonic stem cells — and his colleagues published a paper in Science Magazine stating that human skin cells could be “reprogrammed” into embryonic stem cells.
President Bush has refused to directly fund embryonic stem cell research, twice vetoing such legislation. The White House was therefore quick to herald Thomson’s work, claiming it vindicated Bush’s position:
President Bush is very pleased to see the important advances in ethical stem cell research reported in scientific journals today. By avoiding techniques that destroy life, while vigorously supporting alternative approaches, President Bush is encouraging scientific advancement within ethical boundaries.
Right-wing columnist Charles Krauthammer declared, “The verdict is clear: Rarely has a president — so vilified for a moral stance — been so thoroughly vindicated.” “An official of one group fiercely opposed to destroying embryos said the “scientists should thank ‘pro-life voices’ for pushing them to find alternatives.”
But Thomson and American Association for the Advancement of Science President Alan Leshner could care less about the administration’s approval. In a Washington Post op-ed today, the duo slams the right-wing response to their work, stating that the Bush administration’s restrictive stem cell policies are “counter to both scientific and public opinion” and are inhibiting potential treatments:
At a time when nearly 60 percent of Americans support human embryonic stem cell research, U.S. stem cell policy runs counter to both scientific and public opinion. President Bush’s repeated veto of the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act, which has twice passed the House and Senate with votes from Republicans and Democrats alike, further ignores the will of the American people. [...]
[U]nder the policy President Bush outlined on Aug. 9, 2001, at most 21 stem cell lines derived from embryos before that date are eligible for federal funding. American innovation in the field thus faces inherent limitations. Even more significant, the stigma resulting from the policy surely has discouraged some talented young Americans from pursuing stem cell research.
As Science Progress noted, the skin cell research could not have been accomplished without the knowledge from prior embryonic stem cell research.
Furthermore, Thomson and Leshner emphasized that it “remains to be seen whether reprogrammed skin cells will differ in significant ways from embryonic stem cells…it’s too early to say we’re certain.”
In June, then-White House spokesperson Tony Snow said Bush’s veto of stem cell research was evidence of him “putting science before ideology.” In reality, the scientific community — including Bush’s own science advisers — thinks the opposite.