The Case Against Funding Human Embryonic Stem Cell Research (2001)

by Anton-Lewis Usala, M.D. On August 23, 2000, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) issues final guidelines for federal funding of human embryonic stem cell research. Senate hearings quickly followed on a bill to fund the destruction of human embryos for their stem cells. On February 23, 2001, President George W. Bush received a letter urging him to support federal funding for such research. This letter was signed by eighty Nobel laureates, and came on the heels of a similar letter signed by 123 organizations sent the previous month. What are these “stem cells” and why this enormous interest in them? Briefly, stem cells are cells that have the potential to become many other kinds of cells, depending on the signals they receive. They theoretically provide avenues for replacing damaged or non-functioning tissue to treat many kinds of diseases. Stem cells are found from the beginning of embryonic development throughout adult life. Some researchers believe that stem cells found in the embryo provide more potential for regenerating tissue than do stem cells taken from older, adult donors. Stem cells are found from the beginning of embryonic development throughout adult life. The question arises: Since human embryonic stem cells may provide the basis for some medical miracles, shouln’t the federal government fund research utilizing “spare” embryos from in vitro fertilization (IVF) clinics? Wouldn’t this be a better use for discarded embryos than destroying or freezing them as is currently done? To address the question whether government funding should support human embryonic stem cell research, we need to consider the following: 1) What is the scientific and medical rationale for considering...