Stem Cell Research: Scientists Wait as Bush Decides
According to Tim Leshan, director of public policy at the American Society for Cell Biology, "I don't know if the scientists have all been scared off, but I do think that there probably won't be as many applications as one might hope for, given the politics and given the reality of getting stem cells that comply with the NIH guidelines."
Meanwhile, opponents of the research say they are hopeful that Bush will stop it, even as they voice concern that he has not yet used executive authority to simply cut off the possibility of funding.
Gene Tarne, communications director for the Coalition of Americans for Research Ethics, tells WebMD, "President Bush had said during the campaign that he was opposed to this type of research. We were hoping that there might have been some administrative action to stop the government funding. We are somewhat disappointed that the action has not taken place yet, but we are still hopeful that there will be some action."
The coalition has a web site, www.stemcellresearch.org, which outlines objections to the initiative. The group argues that scientists should focus their research on stem cells found in adults, but researchers say that there isn't as much evidence there as with the embryonic cells.
It's almost anyone's guess what's going to happen to federal funding. Alta Charo,a professor of law and medical ethics at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, and a member of the National Bioethics Advisory Commission, tells WebMD, "I don't think it's likely that we're going to see federal funding of this research."
Charo says, "Although the Bush administration is certainly under pressure from patient groups and from the pharmaceutical industry to release federal funding, it nonetheless knows that this is an issue being watched very closely by a core set of [Bush] supporters, namely the antiabortion activists. They are well-organized, and they vote in very high numbers."
But George Annas, a professor of health law at Boston University, tells WebMD, "There is much more political support behind stem cell research than, for example, there is for funding for abortion counseling. I think that there is at least a reasonable possibility that the NIH guidelines will survive."
Wherever stem cell funding is headed, a Bush decision may be soon. A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Human Services tells WebMD that the administration's review of funding for stem cell research will be complete in the next few months.
"What I'm sensing is that this issue will be resolved in the not-so-distant future," Gearhart tells WebMD. He expects a decision well before the end of the fiscal year in September.