Saturday, March 7, 2009

Keep God And Politics Out Of Stem Cell Research

President Barack Obama Monday is expected to fulfill a campaign promise by rescinding federal funding restrictions on embryonic stem cell research. It's expected to reopen a moral debate which could become more divisive than the ideological political confrontation over rescuing the economy.

For me it's a no brainer.

Diabetes has ravaged my body for a quarter century. Extended research jump started with renewed federal grants holds promise for a cure not only for diabetes but many others such as cancer, Parkinson's and spinal injuries.

If you are doomed to die from these diseases, it is akin to being tossed overboard and become desperate enough to clutch to any flotation devise to keep you alive.

Or to recall an historical example, during the 1960s and early 70s thousands of Americans went to Mexico to obtain the cancer-fighting drug Laetrile which was banned in the U.S. The drug's effectiveness was inconclusive.

This is not the case with various forms of stem cell research.

I'm no geneticist nor moral ethtithist. But no matter how hard I try, I fail to comprehend the reasoning behind the basic argument offered by opponents. They have no problem discarding unused days-old embryos obtained from fertility clinics. But they yell "murder" when the embryos to obtain the cells are destroyed for scientific research.

My fervent plea to the president: Leave politics and God out of the discussion and turn it over to scientists at the National Institutes of Health and let them establish the research grant guidelines.

Obama either by executive order or through Congress will end limited federal funding enacted by President Bush. Under Bush, taxpayer money for that research was limited to a small number of stem cell lines that were created before Aug. 9, 2001, lines that in many cases had some drawbacks that limited their potential usability.

But hundreds more of such lines — groups of cells that can continue to propagate in lab dishes — have been created since then, ones that scientists say are healthier, better suited to creating treatments for people rather than doing basic laboratory science.

Nor does Obama's change fund creation of new lines. But it means that scientists who until now have had to rely on private donations to work with these newer stem cell lines can apply for government money for the research, just like they do for studies of gene therapy or other treatment approaches.

From the Associated Press:

"America's biomedical research enterprise experienced steady decline over the past eight years, with shrinking budgets and policies that elevated ideology over science. This slowed the pace of discovery and the search for cures," said Sean Morrison, director of the University of Michigan's Center for Stem Cell Biology.

Critics immediately denounced the move.

"Taxpayers should not have to foot the bill for experiments that require the destruction of human life," said Tony Perkins of the conservative Family Research Council.

Indeed, there are different types of stem cells: So-called adult stem cells that produce a specific type of tissue; younger stem cells found floating in amniotic fluid or the placenta. Scientists even have learned to reprogram certain cells to behave like stem cells.

But even researchers who work with varying types consider embryonic stem cells the most flexible and thus most promising form — and say that science, not politics, should ultimately judge.

Finally, from the New York Times:

Obama’s announcement is not likely to lead to any immediate change in government policy, since it may take many months for the National Institutes of Health to develop new guidelines for research.

Still, research advocates are expected to push for the process to go as quickly as possible to ensure that universities have time to submit grant proposals that can be reviewed and accepted before September 2010, when the health institutes must commit the last of the $10.4 billion given to the N.I.H. as part of the economic stimulus program.

1 comment:

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