Embryonic Stem Stem Cell Research. (Technology & Society)

Article excerpt

Millions of Americans suffer from debilitating diseases like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's, and it is unfortunate that Congress is prolonging their suffering. In late February the U.S. House of Representatives approved the Human Cloning Prohibition Act of 2003 despite stiff resistance from Democrats, Republicans, families of individuals suffering from various diseases, and most notably, former First Lady Nancy Reagan.

The reason for the resistance was that the bill, debated furiously on the floor, wasn't about banning human cloning. (I, like many other Americans, am against the cloning of human beings.) Rather, the bill was about hamstringing the work of scientists who utilize stem cells from human embryos as part of therapeutic cloning to make advances in fighting life-altering diseases. Furthermore, the legislation--which the Senate is still considering--would ban drugs and treatments developed by use of therapeutic cloning techniques.

Recently the Washington Post and other news outlets published articles about how scientists are finding that President George W. Bush's ban on federally funded research of stem cell lines created after August 9, 2001, is greatly limiting their ability to make progress. This research includes working on cures and treatments for illnesses like heart disease and spinal cord injuries, which would benefit from therapeutic cloning.

The crux of the problem is that the current, approved stem cell lines may be unsuitable for human trials because they were produced by the aid of mouse cells which may contain viruses. Yet scientists receiving federal funds are limited to using only these. And the Food and Drug Administration, out of concern regarding the virus problem, has imposed stringent ground rules for any human trials using these old cell lines.

Stem cells were discovered in 1998, and the medical advances since then have been nothing less than extraordinary, which is why extremist ideology shouldn't slow or halt this progress. Embryonic stem cells are derived from frozen embryos left over by couples who have been seeking a pregnancy; embryos aren't being created for the purpose of being destroyed. Indeed, after a couple has succeeded in establishing a pregnancy, the leftover embryos are normally discarded. Those opposed to embryonic stem cell research believe that life begins at the moment of fertilization and thus see such research as akin to abortion. …