Selling Stem Cells
STEM-CELL research used to be dangerous country. Fears of human cloning, abortion politics and public puzzlement undercut support.
But the climate has changed. Stem cells are now cutting-edge science with a half-dozen countries bidding for the business. Its boosters have qualified a $3 billion bond measure for research on the California ballot this November. For dramatic effect, the death of Ronald Reagan, stricken with Alzheimer's disease in his final years, has reminded the country of his wife's plea for stem-cell research.
A powerful obstacle remains: President Bush's action in 2001 that stymied federally funded research by limiting work to a small colony of existing cells.
Election-year politics, fueled by anti-abortion forces, may make it hard for Bush to reverse direction. That's why a bipartisan letter from 58 of 100 U. S. senators favoring fewer limits on stem-cell research is so important. This broad-based request should help persuade the president that promising science outweighs religious doubts.
Stem cells hold tantalizing promise. Taken from early-stage embryos, these basic cells can be directed to replace sick or damaged cells. Along with Alzheimer's and diabetes, spinal-cord injuries and heart ailments are examples of diseases and conditions that stem cells could cure.
In 2001, Bush permitted research using 64 stem-cell lines already in use, arguing that this batch was enough. But only 19 of the lines can be tapped. As time ticks by, stem-cell research will inevitably drift away to other countries eager for the jobs and honors that go with a new front in disease fighting.
It's time for the White House to revise its stand. Religion shouldn't undercut new science supported by both political parties and the widow of a popular president.