By Wesley J. Smith, J.D., Special Consultant to the CBC

For years, Geron promised that human trials for its ESCR derived product to treat people with new spinal cord injuries would begin–next year. Then approval was obtained from the FDA. Then it was off. Now, it is back on again. From the story:

Geron Corp. said Friday it was notified by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration that a clinical hold placed on the company’s Investigational New Drug application has been lifted and the clinical trial of GRNOPC1 in patients with acute spinal cord injury may proceed. Menlo Park-based Geron (NASDAQ:GERN) said it can now move forward with the world’s first clinical trial of a human embryonic stem cell (hESC)-based therapy in man. The Phase I multi-center trial is designed to establish the safety of GRNOPC1 in patients with “complete” American Spinal Injury Association Impairment Scale grade A subacute thoracic spinal cord injuries.

Adult stem cells have been used, so far with amazing success, in early human trials to restore feeling in long term spinal cord injury patients–with no fanfare at all in the MSM. But let’s focus on a different issue here: What if Geron’s product ultimately works?

ESCs are obtained by destroying nascent human life. This presents a problem for many medical professionals who believe it is wrong to destroy human life–even in the cause of treating the illnesses and disabilities of other human lives. Should physicians be able to refuse to prescribe ESC-derived products (or, years hence, products derived from gestating fetuses in artificial uteri or from euthanized infants) as a matter of conscience? I say yes, IF they advise patients ahead of time that there are certain approaches in which they will not engage based on conscience. Otherwise–and I think many would celebrate this turn of events–people who take traditional Hippocratic and/or pro life views to the practice of medicine, nursing, and pharmacology, will be driven out of health care. If that happens, society will be much the poorer for it. (More on my views on medical conscience, here.)

Health care did not used to involve such conflicts of interest. Now, with some procedures involving the active taking of human life, it does. And that is going to increasingly create profound conflicts of conscience in the medical sphere with which society is going to have to contend.