Sunday, June 6, 2004

The ethics of science

Stem cell research: The puzzle of life

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Last month, former first lady Nancy Reagan reinvigorated the debate over controversial human embryonic stem cell research when she endorsed the need for more research at a Beverly Hills, Calif., fund-raiser.

She believes such research could someday help people like her husband, former President Ronald Reagan, who is suffering from Alzheimer's disease.

"Ronnie's long journey has finally taken him to a distant place where I can no longer reach him," she said. "Because of this I'm determined to do whatever I can to save other families from this pain. I just don't see how we can turn our backs on this."

For: Stem research is legal, useful
Against: Research not ethical practice

• Today's Forum section, which quotes Nancy Reagan, was printed before the death of her husband.
California is pushing for a referendum this fall that would seek to fund human embryonic stem cell research on a state level.

Reagan's endorsement is an anathema to some social conservatives, who equate embryonic stem cell research to abortion. Stem cells form in the early stages of embryonic development and can be formed into many types of cells to form organs and other parts of the body. In this way, they are believed to be able to cure many deadly diseases.

But stem cells have to be taken from days-old embryos, which are destroyed in the process.

In 2001, President Bush issued an executive order restricting federal research funding to experiments that involved only stem cell lines that were in existence. By doing this, Bush sought to keep future human embryos from being destroyed.

Stem cell research could some day lead to cures for Alzheimer's, diabetes, Parkinson's and other diseases. Many scientists say new cell lines must be developed for research. Opponents say destroying harvested embryos to obtain stem cells involves destroying innocent life.

Do you think federal funds should be used to help advance this science? How do you balance social concerns versus personal benefits?

Please send your responses in 100 words or fewer to Stem Cell, Letters to the Editor, 312 Elm St., Cincinnati, OH 45202; e-mail letters@enquirer.com or fax 513-768-8610. Include your neighborhood and a daytime telephone number.

We'll publish a collection of responses on next Sunday's Opinions page.

Stem cell lines are created from a single embryo. Each line consists of genetic material unique to the original donor embryo. Bush based his order on reports that more than 70 stem cell lines were available for research, but later scientists said those lines were in early stages of development and could not be distributed for use. Scientists now say the number of useable lines is much lower. Only 11 human stem cell lines are available for research, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Many leading scientists say new cell lines must be developed for research. What's more, the lines created as of August 2001 were derived in a way that made them questionable for human use, scientists say.

While privately-funded labs are still proceeding with embryonic stem cell research, it is expensive. Those involved say funding is woefully inadequate to stimulate the large level of basic research needed to move the work forward.

In today's debate that ends above, noted anti-abortion advocate Dr. John Willke and University of Minnesota researcher Jeffrey Kahn discuss the ethics surrounding human embryonic stem cell research and its future ramifications.


For: Stem research is legal, useful

Against: Research not ethical practice


Byron McCauley is associate Editorial Page editor of the Cincinnati Enquirer. He can be reached at (513) 768-8473; e-mail bmccauley@enquirer.com

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Against: Research not ethical practice
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