As long as the cure holds, that headline is big news. Very big news for anyone who lived through the HIV fears of the 1980s, and who has seen this disease as “incurable” ever since.
That the cure seems to have happened as a side effect of a painful leukemia treatment should not make the cure for HIV any less significant. Yet it strikes me that in this article, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, seems to downplay the importance of this first-ever cure for HIV. Why could that be? Other than heading off unrealistic hopes for those currently suffering with HIV, I have no idea.
On the other hand, I think it’s also significant that this treatment, which has apparently cured both the leukemia and the HIV infection, involved the use of adult stem cells. Those are the type of stem cells that do not require the death of a human being for their use. I have no moral objection to this kind of medicine, which is apparently capable of amazingly effective treatments. However, I do object on moral grounds to the use of embryonic stem cells, because in order for them to be “harvested,” the living human embryo to whom they belong must be put to death.
Since the value of human life has sadly become a political issue in the United States, I would expect advocates of the so-called “culture of death” (proponents of legal abortion, embryonic stem cell research, physician-assisted suicide, etc.) to be somewhat conflicted by this news. I’m sure everyone’s glad to hear about a cure for HIV, but the fact that the first cure has come through adult stem cells tends to vindicate the moral objection to embryonic stem cell research. Not only does it intentionally destroy innocent human life, treating it with far less regard than the U.S. military treats collateral damage, but embryonic stem cell medicine may be no more effective than adult stem cell medicine. Now that pluripotent adult stem cells can be produced, there is no longer even a weak justification for the destruction of innocent human life necessary to obtain embryonic stem cells.