Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Embryonic stem cell research: wider-ranging than some thought

From the Washington Post (free subscription required)

Although the decision to allow expanded funding had been long expected, many thought Obama would limit federally funded scientists to working with cell lines derived from embryos destined to be discarded at infertility clinics. Instead, he left that key issue open.

Embryos created specifically for research/destruction and/or cloning techniques
"He left it wide open," said Thomas H. Murray, director of the Hastings Center, a bioethics think tank. "Now we are going to have to face a host of morally complicated, politically charged questions. There's not an easy path forward for them out of here."
Will scientists call the shots?
...proponents of the research had hoped that Obama's order would be free of caveats, fulfilling his promise to leave such decisions to scientists. Obama cast his decision that way, coupling it with an order aimed at removing politics from scientific decisions across the government.
Creating life to destroy life

Although Congress may try to revisit this issue, federal law prohibits the direct use of taxpayer money to create or destroy embryos for research purposes. But it is legal to do so with private funding. The ethical debate centers on whether permitting federal funding on cell lines from those sources will encourage such activity.

"This is a really explosive issue," Ronald M. Green, a Dartmouth College bioethicist. "There are lot of people on the left and the right sides of our political spectrum who are opposed to that -- to create a life to destroy it," Green said.
Lisa Graas discusses this issue here.