Pros & Cons of Embryonic Stem Cell Research

Scientists Continue Stem Cell Research While Courts Debate Ban
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On March 9, 2009, President Barack Obama lifted, by Executive Order, the Bush administration's eight-year ban on federal funding of embryonic stem research.

Remarked the President, "Today... we will bring the change that so many scientists and researchers, doctors and innovators, patients and loved ones have hoped for, and fought for, these past eight years."

See Obama's Remarks on Lifting the Embryonic Stem Cell Research Ban, in which he also signed a Presidential Memorandum directing development of a strategy for restoring scientific integrity to government decision-making.

Bush Vetoes

In 2005, H.R. 810, the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act of 2005, was passed by the Republican-led House in May 2005 by a vote of 238 to 194. The Senate passed the bill in July 2006 by a bipartisan vote of 63 to 37.

President Bush opposed embryonic stem cell research on ideological grounds. He exercised his first presidential veto on July 19, 2006 when he refused to allow H.R. 810 to become law. Congress was unable to muster enough votes to override the veto.

In April 2007, the Democratic-led Senate passed the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act of 2007 by a vote of 63 to 34. In June 2007, the House passed the legislation by a vote of 247 to 176.

President Bush vetoed the bill on June 20, 2007.

Public Support for Embryonic Stem Cell Research

For years, all polls report that the American public STRONGLY supports federal funding of embryonic stem cell research.

Reported the Washington Post in March 2009: "In a January Washington Post-ABC News poll, 59 percent of Americans said they supported loosening the current restrictions, with support topping 60 percent among both Democrats and independents.

Most Republicans, however, stood in opposition (55 percent opposed; 40 percent in support)."

Despite public perceptions, embryonic stem cell research was legal in the U.S. during the Bush administration: the President had banned the use of federal funds for research. He did not ban private and state research funding, much of which was being conducted by pharmaceutical mega-corporations.

In Fall 2004 , California voters approved a $3 billion bond to fund embryonic stem cell research. In contrast, embryonic stem cell research is prohibited in Arkansas, Iowa, North and South Dakota and Michigan.

Latest News

In August 2005, Harvard University scientists announced a break-through discovery that fuses "blank" embryonic stem cells with adult skin cells, rather than with fertilized embryos, to create all-purpose stem cells viable to treat diseases and disabilities.

This discovery doesn't result in the death of fertilized human embryos, and thus would effectively respond to pro-life objections to embryonic stem cell research and therapy.

Harvard researchers warned that it could take up to ten years to perfect this highly promising process.

As South Korea, Great Britain, Japan, Germany, India and other countries rapidly pioneer this new technological frontier, the US is being left farther and farther behind in medical technology. The US is also losing out on billions in new economic opportunities at a time when our country sorely needs new sources of revenues.

Background

Therapeutic cloning is a method to produce stem cell lines that were genetic matches for adults and children.

Steps in therapeutic cloning are:
1.

An egg is obtained from a human donor.
2. The nucleus (DNA) is removed from the egg.
3. Skin cells are taken from the patient.
4. The nucleus (DNA) is removed from a skin cell.
5. A skin cell nucleus is implanted in the egg.
6. The reconstructed egg, called a blastocyst, is stimulated with chemicals or electric current.
7. In 3 to 5 days, the embryonic stem cells are removed.
8. The blastocyst is destroyed.
9. Stem cells can be used to generate an organ or tissue that is a genetic match to the skin cell donor.

The first 6 steps are same for reproductive cloning. However, instead of removing stem cells, the blastocyst is implanted in a woman and allowed to gestate to birth. Reproductive cloning is outlawed in most countries.

Before Bush stopped federal research in 2001, a minor amount of embryonic stem cell research was performed by US scientists using embryos created at fertility clinics and donated by couples who no longer needed them.

The pending bipartisan Congressional bills all propose using excess fertility clinic embryos.

Stem cells are found in limited quantities in every human body, and can be extracted from adult tissue with great effort but without harm. Consensus among researchers has been that adult stem cells are limited in usefulness because they can be used to produce only a few of the 220 types of cells found in the human body. However, evidence has recently emerged that adult cells may be more flexible than previously believed.

Embryonic stem cells are blank cells that have not yet been categorized or programmed by the body, and can be prompted to generate any of the 220 human cell types. Embryonic stem cells are extremely flexible.

Pros

Embryonic stem cells are thought by most scientists and researchers to hold potential cures for spinal cord injuries, multiple sclerosis, diabetes, Parkinson's disease, cancer, Alzheimer's disease, heart disease, hundreds of rare immune system and genetic disorders and much more.

Scientists see almost infinite value in the use of embryonic stem cell research to understand human development and the growth and treatment of dieases.

Actual cures are many years away, though, since research has not progressed to the point where even one cure has yet been generated by embryonic stem cell research.

Over 100 million Americans suffer from diseases that eventually may be treated more effectively or even cured with embryonic stem cell therapy. Some researchers regard this as the greatest potential for the alleviation of human suffering since the advent of antibiotics.

Many pro-lifers believe that the proper moral and religious course of action is to save existing life through embryonic stem cell therapy.

Cons

Some staunch pro-lifers and most pro-life organizations regard the destruction of the blastocyst, which is a laboratory-fertilized human egg, to be the murder of human life. They believe that life begins at conception, and that destruction of this pre-born life is morally unacceptable.

They believe that it is immoral to destroy a few-days-old human embryo, even to save or reduce suffering in existing human life.

Many also believe that insufficient attention been given to explore the potential of adult stem cells, which have already been used to successfully cure many diseases. They also argue that too little attention has been paid to the potential of umbilical cord blood for stem cell research. They also point out that no cures have yet been produced by embryonic stem cell therapy.

At every step of the embryonic stem cell therapy process, decisions are made by scientists, researchers, medical professionals and women who donate eggs...decisions that are fraught with serious ethical and moral implications. Those against embryonic stem cell research argue that funding should be used to greatly expand adult stem research, to circumvent the many moral issues involving the use of human embryos.

Where It Stands

Now that President Obama has lifted the federal funding ban for embryonic stem cell research, financial support will soon flow to federal and state agencies to commence the necessary scientific research. The timeline for therapeutic solutions available to all Americans could be years away.

President Obama observed on March 9, 2009, when he lifted the ban:

"Medical miracles do not happen simply by accident. They result from painstaking and costly research, from years of lonely trial and error, much of which never bears fruit, and from a government willing to support that work...

"Ultimately, I cannot guarantee that we will find the treatments and cures we seek. No President can promise that.

"But I can promise that we will seek them -- actively, responsibly, and with the urgency required to make up for lost ground."