Human Embryonic Stem Cell Research
Many scientists believe that research on human embryonic stem cells, components of human embryos created in laboratories, will eventually yield cures to a number of devastating human conditions including juvenile diabetes, Parkinson’s disease and spinal cord injuries. On August 9, 2001, President George W. Bush announced he would permit federally funded research on existing stem cells lines derived from human embryos. He prohibited the federal funding of research on any cell lines created after that date. (See http://abcnews.go.com/sections/politics/DailyNews/stemcells_Bush_transcript010809.html.)
According to Bush, his decision was based on the answers to two questions: "First, are these frozen embryos human life, and therefore, something precious to be protected? And second, if they're going to be destroyed anyway, shouldn't they be used for a greater good, for research that has the potential to save and improve other lives?"
"At its core," Bush continued, "this issue forces us to confront fundamental questions about the beginnings of life and the ends of science. It lies at a difficult moral intersection, juxtaposing the need to protect life in all its phases with the prospect of saving and improving life in all its stages."
Bush defended his decision to limit federal funding to the 60 privately-created cell lines his advisers presumed were already in existence on the grounds (see http://escr.nih.gov) that "[t]his allows us to explore the promise and potential of stem cell research without crossing a fundamental moral line, by providing taxpayer funding that would sanction or encourage further destruction of human embryos that have at least the potential for life." For the existing cell lines, Bush said, "the life and death decision has already been made."
Bush’s announcement culminated years of debate that began in the mid-1960s, when scientists began working with embryonic stem cells in animal models. In 1995, Congress banned federal funding for destructive research using human embryos. Under the Clinton administration, however, federally funded scientists could conduct experiments on stem cell lines as long as they did not themselves participate in embryo destruction. That permission was largely moot, as it was not until the fall of 1998 that the first report of a successful isolation of human embryonic stem cells—done, of necessity, without federal support—was published.
Legal, ethical and economic concerns have all been voiced in the debate over the use of human embryonic stem cells, as have religious considerations. The president indicated his own religious beliefs were central in his deliberations. " My position on these issues is shaped by deeply held beliefs," he told the American public. "[I] believe human life is a sacred gift from our creator." However, other than implying that we are absolved from moral responsibility when the "life and death" decision has already been...