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29 December 2008

Overturning Stem Cell Nonsense

By Diana Hsieh

Good news from The Denver Daily News:

U.S. Reps. Diana DeGette, D-Colo., and Michael Castle, R-Delaware, chief architects of legislation expanding stem cell research, led a bipartisan group of lawmakers yesterday in sending a letter to President-elect Barack Obama, urging him to immediately remove existing federal barriers to embryonic stem cell research by executive order upon taking office.

DeGette and Castle recently introduced new stem cell legislation overturning President Bush's executive order, updating previous legislation to ensure that it is current with the field of stem cell research and bringing the National Institutes of Health to the forefront.

"I am excited that we are on the brink of expanding stem cell research under a responsible, pro-science administration," said DeGette, vice chair of the Committee on Energy and Commerce. "After two vetoes of strong bipartisan legislation that would have overturned President Bush's restrictions, millions of patients and their families can now finally have hope again. I look forward to working with the Obama administration to develop a robust research agenda in America."

The letter from DeGette and Castle states a need for strong federal leadership by NIH in carrying out a responsible stem cell research program due to the fact that there is no overarching set of federal guidelines to serve as a standard. The letter goes on to reference diseases that stem cell research may affect.

"Medical and scientific research, including embryonic stem cell research, holds great promise for alleviating the suffering of the 100 million American patients who are living with devastating diseases - from Parkinson's disease to spinal cord injuries to diabetes - for which there are no good treatments or cures."

Opposition remains steadfast

The stem cell debate is a very controversial one due to the involvement of human embryos. The use of embryonic stem cells for research ties into the abortion issue and raises the debate on exactly when a human life is defined.

"Part of responsible science is making sure we're respecting every life involved," said Kristi Burton, who championed the "personhood" ballot initiative that would have defined life as beginning when a human egg is fertilized. That issue failed this November. "There are effective ways to pursue stem cell research without using embryos. I support finding cures to diseases without destroying life. Why not choose the way to protect life and find cures?"

DeGette and Castle want to immediately revoke the ban on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research. They want NIH to establish guidelines based on scientific needs and an outline determining eligibility for federal funding of stem cell lines that are already in existence. Some organizations are adamantly opposed to the use of federal funding.

"If his (Obama) record is an indicator, we expect the directive to be rolled back, though we do not support that," said Ashley Horne, federal policy analyst for Focus on the Family. "We believe that is it fiscally irresponsible and ethically wrong to use the federal money for treating human embryos, which has not been proven to be effective."
For a good analysis of the morality of embryonic stem-cell research, see the op-ed The Anti-Life Opposition to Embryonic Stem Cell Research by David Holcberg and Alex Epstein.

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