If you were looking for a reason why we should allow stem-cell research, tonight's news about Willie Terpstra ought to provide one. Terpstra suffers from Motor Neurone, and has flown to China to receive an experimental treatment aimed at halting the disease. The treatment consisted of injecting stem-cells directly into her brain; the result was an immediate improvement in her condition. Before the treatment, she could not speak and could barely swallow; after she could do both (though her vocal cords are obviously out of practice).
The treatment is experimental, and the effects may last as little as two weeks. There's also some risk of the stem cells forming tumours within the brain. But this is still nothing short of a medical miracle, and the effects are likely to improve (and become more predictable) as the treatment is perfected.
So why the hell would people object to a technology that shows so much promise? Why did Terpstra have to go to China rather than be treated here in New Zealand? The problem is that stem cells are currently sourced from human embryos, either from aborted fetuses (as in this case), or from blastocysts created by artificial insemination and grown in vitro specifically for the purpose. This has caused widespread opposition from the anti-abortion lobby. But their chief objection - that obtaining stem cells requires killing a human being - is about to become moot, as researchers have discovered that human adult stem cells can be differentiated into neural tissue in chicken eggs. In English, this means no need for abortions or embryonic cloning, as the cells can be sourced from the patient's own bone marrow (eliminating rejection problems into the bargain). I'd hope that even those who currently object to stem cell research on religious grounds would see that as a Good Thing.