The Atlanta Constitution- June 18, 2001
The Bush administration should resist the demands of abortion opponents to withhold federal funding of embryonic stem-cell research.
In advancing their sanctity of life argument, opponents ignore the millions of Americans whose lives could be saved through stem cells retrieved from aborted fetuses or from embryos donated by patients at fertility clinics.
Because primitive embryonic stem cells can be transformed into any type of tissue in the body, they hold the promise of revolutionary treatments and cures. Groundbreaking research already under way in private labs offers hope for people with cancer, diabetes, heart disease, multiple sclerosis, burns and spinal cord injuries. Limited experiments with cells from aborted fetuses have stabilized Parkinson's patients for up to 12 years.
It's difficult to understand the objections to making use of the thousands of embryos now languishing in liquid nitrogen storage in fertility clinics across the country. Their other likely fate is destruction. Isn't it better to harvest the cells to help a child walk or an Alzheimer's patient recognize his family again?
The embryos typically belong to infertile couples who achieved a pregnancy through in vitro fertilization and want to donate their remaining embryos --- which are about the size of a pin prick --- to stem-cell research.
Following the recommendation of the National Bioethics Advisory Commission, the Clinton administration approved the funding of stem-cell research in government labs as long as the actual extraction of the cells from the embryos occurred elsewhere.
The commission's 1999 report was the second federal ethics analysis to conclude that certain kinds of research on human embryos warrant federal support.
But the Bush administration suspended the National Institutes of Health research pending a review, which is scheduled to be completed in the next few weeks. The White House fears an approval will alienate the conservative voting base that propelled George W. Bush to the presidency. To anti-abortion groups, the stem-cell debate really comes down to whether those embryos represent the seed of life or a life itself.
The majority of Americans do not define the debate in those terms. To most people, it is a question of whether embryos destined to be discarded serve a higher moral purpose in being used instead to battle chronic diseases.
Regardless of what Bush decides, the science of stem cells will continue to move forward through privately funded labs and research being done abroad. With federal support, however, it will move faster and save more lives.
Copyright 2001 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution