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Pros & Cons of Embryonic Stem Cell Research

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Scientists Continue Stem Cell Research While Courts Debate Ban
Spencer Platt/Getty Images News/Getty Images

OBAMA LIFTS FUNDING BAN

On March 9, 2009, President Barack Obama lifted, by Executive Order, the Bush administration's eight-year ban on federal funding of embryonic stem research.

Remarked the President, "Today... we will bring the change that so many scientists and researchers, doctors and innovators, patients and loved ones have hoped for, and fought for, these past eight years."

See Obama's Remarks on Lifting the Embryonic Stem Cell Research Ban, in which he also signed a Presidential Memorandum directing development of a strategy for restoring scientific integrity to government decision-making.

BUSH VETOES IN 2006, 2007

In 2005, H.R. 810, the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act of 2005, was passed by the Republican-led House in May 2005 by a vote of 238 to 194. The Senate passed the bill in July 2006 by a bipartisan vote of 63 to 37.

President Bush opposed embryonic stem cell research on ideological grounds. He exercised his first presidential veto on July 19, 2006 when he refused to allow H.R. 810 to become law. Congress was unable to muster enough votes to override the veto.

In April 2007, the Democratic-led Senate passed the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act of 2007 by a vote of 63 to 34. In June 2007, the House passed the legislation by a vote of 247 to 176.

President Bush vetoed the bill on June 20, 2007.

PUBLIC SUPPORT FOR EMBRYONIC STEM CELL RESEARCH

For years, all polls report that the American public STRONGLY supports federal funding of embryonic stem cell research.

Reported the Washington Post in March 2009: "In a January Washington Post-ABC News poll, 59 percent of Americans said they supported loosening the current restrictions, with support topping 60 percent among both Democrats and independents. Most Republicans, however, stood in opposition (55 percent opposed; 40 percent in support)."

Despite public perceptions, embryonic stem cell research was legal in the U.S. during the Bush administration: the President had banned the use of federal funds for research. He did not ban private and state research funding, much of which was being conducted by pharmaceutical mega-corporations.

In Fall 2004 , California voters approved a $3 billion bond to fund embryonic stem cell research. In contrast, embryonic stem cell research is prohibited in Arkansas, Iowa, North and South Dakota and Michigan.

Latest News

In August 2005, Harvard University scientists announced a break-through discovery that fuses "blank" embryonic stem cells with adult skin cells, rather than with fertilized embryos, to create all-purpose stem cells viable to treat diseases and disabilities.

This discovery doesn't result in the death of fertilized human embryos, and thus would effectively respond to pro-life objections to embryonic stem cell research and therapy.

Harvard researchers warned that it could take up to ten years to perfect this highly promising process.

As South Korea, Great Britain, Japan, Germany, India and other countries rapidly pioneer this new technological frontier, the US is being left farther and farther behind in medical technology. The US is also losing out on billions in new economic opportunities at a time when our country sorely needs new sources of revenues.

Background

Therapeutic cloning is a method to produce stem cell lines that were genetic matches for adults and children.

Steps in therapeutic cloning are:
1. An egg is obtained from a human donor.
2. The nucleus (DNA) is removed from the egg.
3. Skin cells are taken from the patient.
4. The nucleus (DNA) is removed from a skin cell.
5. A skin cell nucleus is implanted in the egg.
6. The reconstructed egg, called a blastocyst, is stimulated with chemicals or electric current.
7. In 3 to 5 days, the embryonic stem cells are removed.
8. The blastocyst is destroyed.
9. Stem cells can be used to generate an organ or tissue that is a genetic match to the skin cell donor.

The first 6 steps are same for reproductive cloning. However, instead of removing stem cells, the blastocyst is implanted in a woman and allowed to gestate to birth. Reproductive cloning is outlawed in most countries.

Before Bush stopped federal research in 2001, a minor amount of embryonic stem cell research was performed by US scientists using embryos created at fertility clinics and donated by couples who no longer needed them. The pending bipartisan Congressional bills all propose using excess fertility clinic embryos.

Stem cells are found in limited quantities in every human body, and can be extracted from adult tissue with great effort but without harm. Consensus among researchers has been that adult stem cells are limited in usefulness because they can be used to produce only a few of the 220 types of cells found in the human body. However, evidence has recently emerged that adult cells may be more flexible than previously believed.

Embryonic stem cells are blank cells that have not yet been categorized or programmed by the body, and can be prompted to generate any of the 220 human cell types. Embryonic stem cells are extremely flexible.

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