Abortion Debate Clouds Future of Stem Cell Research
Stem Cell Dilemmas
However, since the new president has already rolled back
funding for international family planning programs that counsel or offer
abortion services, the question now is will Bush take a hard look at stem
cells? Antiabortion groups hope the answer is yes. They oppose stem cell
technology as unethical and illegal. William Saunders, JD, of the conservative
Family Research Council, says the approach amounts to "disposable human
"Even though it seems insignificant, it's just the most
defenseless human being ... but it's still a human being. To kill one human
being to help another ... [is] just not something we want to do. We don't want
to go down that road," Saunders tells WebMD.
Under a National Institutes of Health guideline that was
finalized last year, stem cell studies can proceed as long as they use embryos
originally intended for in vitro fertilization that were going to be discarded
anyway. However, a highly placed government source tells WebMD that so far,
there have been no applications for stem cell grants, even though the money is
The speculation is that researchers are taking a wait and see
attitude before committing to complex and controversial experiments that could
be canceled. Meanwhile, John Gearhart, PhD, a professor of obstetrics and
gynecology and a pioneering stem cell researcher at Johns Hopkins University in
Baltimore, is watching the situation carefully.
"'Concerned' is a fair statement. I think that there's been
a great deal of work and effort to position guidelines that are workable,"
Gearhart tells WebMD. Gearhart agrees the technology needs oversight, but some
of the most egregious potential abuses, like selling embryos, are already
Meanwhile, earlier this week Britain's House of Lords voted to
allow limited cloning of human embryos to produce stem cells, in spite of
vigorous objections from religious leaders. That follows a similar approval
from the lower House of Commons last year. Now England could move ahead in this
"Falling behind other research enterprises in this field --
I hope that doesn't happen," says Hendrix.
Though stem cells have detractors, they also have powerful
backers, like diabetic Mary Tyler Moore and Parkinson's patient Michael J. Fox.
Their voices have already been heard in the debate. So may the chorus of
countless others who suffer from heart disease, stroke, and paralyzing