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Bush's Stem Cell Decision: What Will It Mean?

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Those who support embryonic stem cell research say that studies will proceed, with or without government money. If studies receive only private money, they argue, it will slow medical advances, narrow the social benefits examined, and prevent public oversight of the studies.

Goldstein says that even if Bush rejects government funding, strong congressional support for federal support of the embryonic could emerge later this year.

A July 20 letter to Bush, signed by 61 Senators, urged him to fund the embryonic studies. And according to a letter Sen. Arlen Specter (R, Penn.) sent Bush, "Research on embryonic stem cells could result in treatments or cures for millions of Americans suffering a variety of illnesses ... You have the lives of millions of our -- and your -- constituents in your hands."

A number of prominent Republicans who oppose abortion have weighed in to support funding the embryonic studies, including Sen. Bill Frist, MD, (R, Tenn.). Frist cautions, however, that the research should be capped to a certain number of "cell lines" taken from the human embryos. Cell lines are cells of a particular type that scientists can continue to grow in the lab and use in their research.

But Goldstein tells WebMD, "If you think that the use of even one cell line involved murder, you're not going to be happy with that compromise. And scientists such as myself will tell you that there's no scientific justification to restricting yourself to one or a few cell lines. You're almost condemning yourself to failure."

The media have already begun to speculate what Bush will decide. CNN, for example, has reported the possibility the president will make a compromise and support the use of stem cells taken from the embryos left over at fertility clinics, which could otherwise have been thrown away. To do so would require written consent from the couples that produce them.

There are an estimated 100,000 frozen embryos in the nation's in vitro fertility clinics. Many are not used, meaning that they can legally be destroyed. The embryos in question contain a total of about 50 to 100 cells.

Under a federal funding plan developed under the Clinton Administration, but put on hold by Bush, the government could not fund efforts to "extract" stem cells from the embryos. The extraction destroys the embryo..

Scientists say that cloned human embryos can also be sources of stem cells, but the U.S. House of Representatives voted to ban that activity last month.

Stem cells taken from adults have also shown research promise, and "pro-life" activists have latched on those cells as a more ethical alternative to the embryonic variety. But many scientists aren't certain that the adult cells can be easily gathered or that they can actually become any type of specialized cell.

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