Fulfilling a campaign promise, President Barack Obama has approved federal funding for embryonic stem cell research. This executive order, signed on Monday, March 9, 2009, reverses restrictions implemented by President George W. Bush in 2001. Until now, researchers receiving federal funding have been limited to using cell lines developed before August, 2001, when President Bush’s order took effect.
Many new and improved stem cell lines have been created since that time in privately-funded laboratories, but were barred from use by researchers seeking federal funding. While the new policy allows research using these newer cell lines to be supported by tax money, it does not reverse a separate legislation prohibiting federal funding for development of new cell lines.
What are stem cells?
Stem cells are different from most of the other cells in the body in two important ways. One, they are able to continue to divide and replicate for long periods of time, thus providing a source of new, healthy tissue. Two, they are unspecialized, meaning they have the potential to develop into any type of tissue, including nerve, muscle, bone or blood. Therefore, they can potentially be of great value in regenerative therapy by replacing diseased or damaged cells.
Because of their unique properties, stem cells are a potential source of treatment for many serious diseases including diabetes, Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease, as well as spinal cord injury, stroke, burns, heart disease and arthritis.
A controversial issue
Embryonic stem cell research continues to be a controversial issue. Supporters argue that these cells show great promise in the treatment and cure of many devastating diseases and injuries. They contend that the embryonic stem cells are derived from surplus embryos that were created for in vitro fertilization, and were intended to be destroyed anyway.
Before his death, Christopher Reeve had been a staunch advocate of embryonic stem cell research for treatment of spinal cord injury.
Nancy Reagan has also been an outspoken supporter of stem cell research as a potential cure for Alzheimer’s disease, which caused the death of Ronald Reagan. The former First Lady expressed her approval of President Obama’s new policy, stating she is “very grateful.”
Opponents of stem cell research define human life as beginning at conception, and therefore believe that using cells from these embryos is tantamount to killing a human being. They argue that destroying any form of human life is unethical. Addressing this aspect of the controversy, President Obama stated, “As a person of faith, I believe we are called to care for each other and work to ease human suffering.”
National Institute of Health Stem Cell Information
Los Angeles News: Nancy Reagan “Grateful” for Stem Cell Research http://cbs2.com/local/Nancy.Reagan.Stem.2.954005.html
Breitbart.com Breaking News: Obama overturns Bush policy on stem cells