iPSC are stem cells that are produced from adult stem cells. The adult stem cell is not as plastic as embryonic stem cells, but they can be reverted back to a state of pluripotentcy, where they can act as embryonic stem cells. This is ethically significant since there is a great amount of controversy over using embryonic stem cells since they involve the destruction of some embryo or fetus to obtain them.
In this month's (april) Scientific American, Steve Mirsky writes: "So what I don't get is why aren't people who are against using embryonic stem cells in research just as against using iPSCs?" He gets to this question by pointing out that iPSCs have the theoretical possibility of being implanted in a womb and grown as a clone. Most who are against stem cell research are also against cloning and so consequently should be against the use of iPSCs.
Mirsky is bringing up what seems like an inconsistency in the anti-stem cell research camp. But I don't think he's entirely right. First, I'm totally for stem cell research, but I'm in more favor of iPSC research, although in practical terms, iPSC research will be slower research. But back to me in a second. What are the anti-stem cell camp against exactly? Its isn't stem cell research strangely enough. Very few opponents of stem cell research would actually say that the research itself is morally wrong, rather the source of the research material is questionable. Destroying embryos are wrong and if this research promotes embryos being destroyed, then it is wrong because of that, not because of its aims or the research itself.
So since iPSC doesn't destroy embryos, then it is morally acceptable research. But what about the possibility of cloning? For someone to be upset by iPSC because of concerns over cloning, one would have to make a slippery slope argument. iPSC research will lead to human cloning. Clearly this isn't any more true than legalizing gay marriage leading to inter-species marriages.
So why worry about iPSC when embryonic stem cells will in all likelihood produce results quicker? Simply put, it would make more people happy. If we could grow meat in a petri dish that is identical to real meat, without the animal cruelty, we should do it because it would make more people happy. Wouldn't it be cheaper to just raise a cow? Sure it would. But if we could avoid the problematic aspects of eating meat, then we should.
Now some might say there are no problematic aspects of embryonic stem cell research, whereas there are problematic aspects with animal husbandry. But we could still easily imagine a world where all animals are not factory farmed, where they have pleasant lives and a Temple Grandin approved death. People would still be unhappy to see animals dying, and whether that is reasonable or not isn't the issue, for me anyways. I don't think we can really control how things make us feel. If seeing cats on fire pleases the people of France, then it does, no matter how unsavory it is. I love Survivor (Go Russell!) and I know that its terrible television. But I love it anyways. I can't help it! This isn't to say that we should indulge in things that are morally bad so long as they make us happy, but rather if we can avoid making people unhappy and not do anything morally bad, then we should do so.