Posted By Caulimovirus on October 23, 2007
Scientists claim embryonic stem cells may help them understand and treat several serious diseases, but their efforts have been severely hampered by the current administration.
The real issue is that President Bush evidently thinks it is OK to use stem cells that were derived from previously destroyed embryos.
Consider then, that in vitro fertilization procedures routinely create excess embryos, which are never implanted, and last year the Senate passed a bill that would have allowed federal funding for scientists to use these embryos before they were inevitably destroyed.
Bush exercised his first veto on this bill, even though his efforts won’t save a single embryo from winding up in biological waste bins.
He apparently sees an impassable moral gulf that separates using stem cells from embryos, which were destroyed, and using stem cells from embryos that are going to be destroyed.
Most people think of stem cells as potential “cures” for diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, but there are more fundamental applications.
Scientists could conceivably use embryonic stem cells to model the genetic progression of complicated diseases to better understand their pathogeneses.
Once they accomplish that, they can create more effective treatments via other methods.
Imagine how quickly medical knowledge would increase if scientists could observe a disease spreading in brain tissue located in a petri dish instead of a person’s head. Since embryonic stem cells can differentiate into any cell type, this scenario isn’t too far off.
Opponents of embryonic stem cell research often point to the success of treatments developed with non-controversial adult stem cells.
They argue that embryonic stem cells are not needed when we can use adult stem cells. (Some advocates exaggerate the number of treatments to 65, but in reality there are only nine FDA-approved clinical treatments that use adult stem cells.)
However, the two approaches should be seen as complementary, not competitive. Adult stem cell research is important and should be encouraged, but there are limitations that just aren’t present in embryonic stem cells (and vice versa).
For instance, adult stem cells are notoriously difficult to isolate, and they do not divide as rapidly as embryonic stem cells.
Better techniques may be developed tomorrow that would eliminate many of the downsides, but that shouldn’t stop us from doing all we ethically can to help save those afflicted with diseases today.
Last June, an ABC News poll found that 60 percent of the public supports government funding for embryonic stem cell research while only 31 percent disapprove.
There are even prominent Republicans like Nancy Reagan, Orrin Hatch, Bill Frist and Arlen Specter who support federal funding for research utilizing excess embryos.
The American public has repeatedly voiced its support for this important research.
It’s time for this administration to develop a consistent system of bioethics and either call for the banning of in vitro fertilization (not going to happen) or let science progress by lifting the restrictions on excess embryonic stem cell research.
Cody Cobb is a member of the Baylor Democrats. He is a senior biochemistry major from Spring.
.: I say almost all its glory, because for whatever reason the editors decided to remove the last half of my introductory paragraph. For all you completists out there, here’s the missing bit:
Scientists claim embryonic stem cells may help them understand and treat several serious diseases, but their efforts have been severely hampered by the current administration. In 2001, Bush allowed federal funds to be used on human embryonic stem cell research, with the crippling condition that funds only go to the â€œmore than 60â€ stem cell lines already in existence. Never mind that only 23 such lines existed and that many of these were deemed unusable by scientists â€“ thatâ€™s a side issue.
.: Ah well, I think I got my main points across. The counter article is pretty reasonable for what it is. I’m glad the author used his space for explaining what stem cells are; that saved me lots of room in my piece for other things.
.: I do find his concluding analogy a bit weak, though:
. . . [P]olicymakers should not compel those morally opposed to the destruction of embryos to pay for that destruction.
Just as a conscientious objector is not forced to go into combat for this country, a citizen should not be forced to pay for an embryo’s destruction.
.: As a supporter for the war in Iraq, to take a random example, would he agree that people who oppose the war should not be forced to pay taxes that fund the war effort? If he would not agree, then doesn’t that undermine his argument? I suppose democracy can be rather inconvenient at times, but given an appropriately educated populace I still think it’s a pretty good idea.