I blogged recently about Newt Gingrich's recent attacks on human embryonic stem cell research, and his intention to investigate and regulate the practices of IVF clinics which create excess human embryos. The news item led me to wonder what Mitt Romney's stem-cell position is. Not surprisingly, it's bounced around a bit.
In his gubernatorial race of 2002, Romney was a supporter of embryonic stem-cell research, and even promised to lobby President Bush for increased research funding in the area. But after a conversation with some Harvard researchers who, Romney often claims, had no moral qualms about destroying two-week-old embryos, he changed his position. Indeed, he credits the stem-cell debate with pushing him toward his current pro-life abortion position. In the run-up to the 2008 presidential election, Romney formulated his current position, namely, that it isn't unethical to use "excess" embryos from IVF clinics for embryonic stem-cell research, but that he opposes government funding for such research, and opposes any laboratory creation of embryos (by cloning or otherwise) for research purposes. This page gathers a number of quotations from Romney on the issue over the years.
He has spoken in favor of shifting research from human embryonic stem cells to induced pluripotent stem cells, since the latter research involves no embryonic destruction. He has also made mention several times of "altered nuclear transfer," the purported "scientific solution" to the ethical problem of embryonic stem-cell research promoted by William Hurlbut, a Stanford professor and member of President Bush's bioethics committee. Altered nuclear transfer essentially produces a severely disabled embryo which cannot develop into a human baby; Hurlbut argued that using ANT embryos thus avoided the problem of killing a viable embryo. Pro-life organizations briefly endorsed, and then pulled away from, the Hurlbut proposal. (There's a website touting ANT here; and brief discussion halfway down this page of the political reception by pro-life groups of Hurlbut's proposal.)
This recent item from Fox News takes Romney to task for continuing to invest in Novo Nordisk, a Danish pharmaceutical firm which uses some stem cells in its research, up until 2010--in spite of having taken a position against embryonic stem-cell research in 2007. But I think that's just a mistake. Romney, as far as I've been able to find, has never taken a comprehensive position opposing all human embryonic stem-cell research. He isn't opposed to privately-funded research on leftover IVF embryos. He opposes laboratory embryo creation, and he opposes the public funding of any embryonic stem-cell research.