Charles Krauthammer, who is paraplegic and therefore a potential recipient of the promised miracle cures of embryonic stem cell research, has hailed the amniotic stem cell breakthrough recently discussed by BK and me. Although Krauthammer does not believe life begins at conception and supports abortion rights, he nevertheless believes that the amniotic stem cell discovery allows us a morally untroubled way forward that should be pursued:
This is a revolutionary finding. Amniotic fluid surrounds the baby in the womb during pregnancy. It is routinely drawn out by needle in amniocentesis. The procedure carries little risk and is done for legitimate medical purposes that have nothing to do with stem cells. If it nonetheless yields a harvest of stem cells, we have just stumbled upon an endless supply.
And not just endless, but uncontroversial. No embryos are destroyed. The cells are just floating there, as if waiting for science to discover them.
Even better, amniotic fluid might prove to yield an ideal stem cell — not as primitive as embryonic stem cells and therefore less likely to grow uncontrollably into tumors, but also not as developed as adult stem cells and therefore more “pluripotential” in the kinds of tissues it can produce.
If it is proved that these are the Goldilocks of stem cells, history will record the amniotic breakthrough as the turning point in the evolution of stem cell research from a narrow, difficult, delicate and morally dubious enterprise into an uncontroversial one with raw material produced unproblematically every day.