The Washington Post reports that there are two new ways to isolate embryonic stem cells. The first involves recovering useable cells from hopelessly damaged embryos that were frozen in IVF clinics. The researchers at Columbia compare this to taking organs from brain-dead patients. Of course, if one considers IVF inherently wrong, this still doesn’t get you off the hook.
The second type is trickier: there is a method of cloning called somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT), where the nucleus of a non-genital region of one’s body (usually a gut cell, but it can be anything other than an ovum or sperm cell) is transferred to an egg cell whose own nucleus was destroyed. The trick to getting stem cells in the second method is to somehow interfere with this procedure so that the new hybrid cell does not become an embryo, but can in fact still produce some totipotent embryonic stem cells.
I am skeptical of the second method. One, somatic cell transfer has a lot of problems. It took 227 tries to clone a sheep before Dolly was born, and she became a medical mess afterwards. Now we are supposed to take SCNT, interfere with it somehow so it doesn’t make an embryo, and think that maybe this’ll create something that we can cure things with? Secondly, the scientists claim that no embryo is made, but scientists and physicians have been retroactively redefining human life for about 30 years now in order to make abortion and destructive human research convenient. E.g., they invented the term "preembryo" so that they could make embryonic stem cell research legit because they weren’t really killing a true human being. I have yet to track down the literature on this second method, so I am still unsure of whether a complete organism (embryonic or otherwise) is in fact never created and killed by this method. Stay tuned.