Embryonic Stem Cell Controversy, 25 Years Later

Bradley Mattes   |   November 16, 2023

Those of us who lived through the great embryonic stem cell controversy are enjoying the sweet aroma of vindication.  

There’s an excellent piece from Gene Tarne with Charlotte Lozier Institute that needs to be echoed.  He eloquently states that after all of the hype and whoopla, twenty-five years later embryonic stem cells (ESCs) proved to be an utter failure. 

In the heat of the ethical dispute, nearly every pro-life leader said it was wrong to kill human embryos for unproven scientific experimentation. As you may recall, we were branded as backward thinkers who put ideology over science – or worse.   

Some of the medical and scientific critics sniffed at our moral compass – opposing ESCs while supporting adult stem cell research. Philip A. Pizzo, MD Professor of Pediatrics and of Microbiology and Immunology Stanford School of Medicine wrote, “We are once again watching science pitted against political ideology…It’s as if we have entered a time warp and are spectators at the Inquisition’s reading of charges against Galileo for his views of the solar system.” 

In his online letter Pizzo provided a list of major devastating diseases he believed had the potential to be treated with ESCs. 

Dr. Pizzo’s comments didn’t age well. My question to him today would be, “Who are Galileo’s critics now?” 

During the embryonic stem cell controversy, with the help of Hollywood celebrities, California invested three billion dollars into ESC research, claiming taxpayers would reap huge royalties from the cures it produced. What did the taxpayers get for their hard-earned investment?  


Tarne pointed out multiple scientific journals, politicians, and media outlets that declared the wonder and excitement of ESCs. These are a couple of my favorite flawed conclusions: 

  • Lawrence Goldstein, MD while testifying before Congress said, “In fact, the list of possible therapeutic uses is almost endless.” 
  • Nancy Pelosi said that the potential of ESC’s “has taken us to a place that is biblical in its power to cure…” 

What about the promise of adult stem cells? George Daily, associate professor at Children’s Hospital, Harvard School of Medicine stated at a 2004 Senate hearing, “Claiming that the promise of adult stem cells trumps the need to study embryonic stem cells is an opinion at the fringe, not the forefront, of scientific thinking.” 

Daily certainly needs to eat his words. I wonder if he wants fries with that?

Borrowing the words of Mr. Tarne, “They wildly over-promised and grotesquely under-delivered.” 

The reality is, within the medical and scientific community there are no successful ESC clinical trials. 

If, like me, you’d enjoy a victory lap, please read Tarne’s full article.   

Defending Life, 

Bradley Mattes

President, Life Issues Institute

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