President needs to revisit stem cell guidelines
Ronald Reagan's death has generated national mourning, but it's also bringing new impetus to a scientific issue: stem cell research.
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are urging President Bush to expand stem cell research -- and the president should listen to them.
Many scientists believe such research could lead to treatments for Alzheimer's disease, from which Reagan suffered, and other maladies ranging from multiple sclerosis to spinal cord injuries. Though the former president isn't here to make his views known, Reagan's widow, Nancy, advocates expanding stem cell research.
At issue are embryonic stem cells, the most promising avenue of research. The cells are taken from embryos, which are destroyed in the process, leading to opposition from those who link the practice to abortion.
In 2001, President Bush signed an executive order limiting federal funding for research to the 78 lines of embryonic stem cells then in existence. But that response turns out to be inadequate; only 19 or so of those lines remain scientifically viable.
It's clear more cell lines need to be made available -- and that's going to happen, no matter what the president decides. It's too promising an area of medical science to ignore; the treatments it potentially offers could alleviate a host of human suffering.
Already private funds are being raised for such research, to avoid any federal restrictions. And foreign nations are also increasing their stem cell programs; they'll take the lead if the United States doesn't want it. The current federal policy gives other nations the leadership in this new field of study, while offering little input on what research does happen here.
That doesn't accomplish what Bush intended, and it's time for him to reconsider his stand.
Already 58 senators and 206 House members have signed letters to the president urging a relaxation of the restrictions on stem cell study. The support ranges from liberals like California's Sen. Barbara Boxer to abortion opponents like conservative Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah.
That's because there is another way to provide more stem cells without confronting the abortion issue. The in vitro fertilization process, used by those trying to conceive children, creates thousands more embryos than needed. Those are frozen and eventually destroyed if not used.
So why not allow couples to donate the unused embryos for research if they wish? The question isn't whether the embryos will be destroyed, but whether any good will come of it. If the embryos are slated for destruction anyway, why not use them to benefit humanity? That would expand the cell lines available while avoiding the ethical questions about creating new embryos just for the purpose of extracting stem cells.
The president's current policy fails to deal with the reality of the situation, and so must change. The research is going forward, no matter what he decides. So does the federal government want a say in what happens, or is it content to let others set the standards?