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Stem Cell Debate Rages on Capitol Hill

WebMD Health News

July 17, 2001 (Washington) -- As President George W. Bush agonizes over funding stem cell research with federal dollars, emotion and science continue to tightly intertwine in the national debate over the controversial research.

Today, supporters and opponents of federal funding for the cutting-edge embryonic stem cell studies took to Capitol Hill, sparing nothing in their lobbying.

At a press conference today, the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation International, which supports the research, highlighted an ad featuring a young diabetic girl for whom the research is the "best hope for a cure."

Meanwhile, at a congressional hearing, John Borden, the father of twins born from "adopted embryos" -- embryos thawed from in vitro storage and implanted in his wife's womb -- held his children up in front of lawmakers and asked, "Which one of my children would you choose to kill?"

In early 1999, the Clinton administration had decided that taxpayer dollars could be used to fund research into human embryonic stem cells. These "blank" cells hold the potential to specialize into all manner of cells.

Manipulating stem cells to treat disease beckons desperate individuals of all political stripes who suffer from Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, cancer, and a host of other diseases with no cure. The ailments, it is hoped, could conceivably be battled and even cured with supplies of healthy new cells derived from stem cells.

But obtaining embryonic stem cells requires the destruction of the frozen "excess" in vitro embryos created by and for couples seeking infertility treatments. Therein lies the crux of the debate.

Destroying embryos is unacceptable to pro-life activists and the Catholic Church, who argue that funding the research is morally unacceptable. They argue that destroying an embryo is the same as taking a human life.

Instead, these activists call for limited funding of non-embryonic stem cells. They claim that promising advances with stem cells taken from adult tissue or from umbilical cords warrant federal funding.

Most scientists say that early research indicates that embryonic cells hold the most promise, because they could be more easily obtained and can be multiplied easily.

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