Rethink the Stem Cell Ban
President Reagan's affliction and Nancy's advocacy should lead to a boost for research
By Register Editorial Board
The death of former President Ronald Reagan spurs an outpouring of reflections on his political visions and accomplishments. Yet it is perhaps in Reagan's last years of living, the decade he was suffering from Alzheimer's, where yet another contribution of his life can be found because it highlights the need to expand stem-cell research.
This area of science is key to improving the lives of people with degenerative diseases.
Stem cells are a sort of starter cell extracted from a human embryo. They can become any type of tissue in the body, with potential to transform into bone marrow, cardiac tissue, nerves and even blood. That makes the possibilities for advancements in treatment for diseases like Alzheimer's, spinal injuries, heart disease and diabetes promising. Dead tissue could potentially be regrown and replaced.
Former first lady Nancy Reagan saw its promise. During the course of her husband's battle with the degenerative brain disease, she advocated expanding funding for research. As recently as May, she asked U.S. leaders, implicitly the Bush administration, for help in order to "save other families from this pain."
Recently more than 200 members of the House of Representatives and 58 senators signed letters to President Bush that urged him to modify the current restrictions on federal funding for stem-cell research.
In 2001, Bush restricted the funding to research on stem-cell lines already in existence.
In response to the letter from lawmakers, White House spokesman Scott McClellan said Bush's policy will not change because the administration believes there are enough lines available for research now.
That's not true. Only 19 lines are usable for research.
But that's not really the point.
The point is the administration should not interfere with medical advances without sound reasoning for doing so. Instead, Bush's opposition has dwelled in the realm of science fiction. He has made reference to "embryo farms" and a world where "human beings are grown for spare body parts."
The vast majority of lawmakers, including many conservatives, see through that exaggeration.
The death of President Reagan provides the opportunity to lift the restrictions.
That means allowing federal funding to be used for research. Stem-cell research will not result in the creation of Frankensteins. It will offer hope of saving and improving the lives of Americans.