Research on embryonic stem cells: The time has come-maybe

June 1, 2005

Here is the problem: Embryonic stem cells have enormous therapeutic potential for a wide range of diseases and disabilities but, unhappily, existing techniques for extracting these amazing cells kill the embryo that contains them. This situation is unacceptable to the segment of the electorate that is pro-life and anti-abortion-a segment that includes the president of the United States. Research has been stymied by a four-year-old federal policy that limits federal funding to a narrow group of existing stem-cell lines.

Here is the problem: Embryonic stem cells have enormous therapeutic potential for a wide range of diseases and disabilities but, unhappily, existing techniques for extracting these amazing cells kill the embryo that contains them. This situation is unacceptable to the segment of the electorate that is pro-life and anti-abortion-a segment that includes the president of the United States. Research has been stymied by a four-year-old federal policy that limits federal funding to a narrow group of existing stem-cell lines.

Last month, the President's Council on Bioethics sought a way around the impasse, urging researchers to find new ways to obtain stem cells that do not involve killing the embryo. The report was issued over vociferous objections of several scientists on the panel, which, according to panel Chair Leon Kass, has more members who are pro-life than past councils had and is, therefore, "more representative of the nation as a whole."

Despite opposition from the pro-life bloc, there are signs that efforts to fund more research in this field are gaining momentum: