A Fitting Tribute to Mr. Reagan
The death of Ronald Reagan is a poignant reminder of the devastation wrought by Alzheimer's disease, an incurable neurological illness that robs patients of their memories and ultimately takes their lives. Our hearts go out to Nancy Reagan, who watched her husband slip away over the past decade to a place where she could no longer reach him. We hope that when the tributes are done and the former president is laid to rest on Friday, she will renew her efforts to eliminate restraints on embryonic stem cell research, perhaps the most promising route toward cures for Alzheimer's and other devastating ailments. It would be a fine tribute to her husband's memory.
Mrs. Reagan has become, over the last two years, one of a growing cadre of conservative Republicans who have pressed for the Bush administration to lift its ill-considered restrictions on federal financing for embryonic stem cell research. Such cells are potentially important because they have the ability to grow into a wide range of other cells. The hope is that stem cells may be able to repair the damage caused by Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, diabetes, heart disease, spinal cord injuries and other ailments. Unfortunately, the research is also controversial because the stem cells are extracted from microscopic embryos, which are destroyed in the process.
In a compromise that appears likely to slow the advance of science, President Bush has allowed federally financed stem cell research only on cell lines that existed as of Aug. 9, 2001. That was enough to keep the early research going. But last month Dr. Elias Zerhouni, director of the National Institutes of Health, the government's chief biomedical research agency, acknowledged that getting more lines would probably be helpful in speeding some areas of research.
Even so, Dr. Zerhouni reiterated the president's opposition to using taxpayer funds in any effort that involves the destruction of human embryos. That is where Mrs. Reagan's voice could become critically important. She makes a more persuasive moral case: that the nation should not turn its back on research that might alleviate so much human suffering.