An Ethical Approach to Stem Cell Research
By: Congressman John Boehner
Sometimes science moves faster than politics, and Congress spends time debating issues that have already been left behind by developments in the medical field. The issue of stem cell research is one of those issues.
Advances in treatments using adult stem cells have shown great promise, and the harvesting of these cells is not controversial in that no human life is destroyed for collection. The real success stories have come from individuals treated with their own stem cells - cells collected from such places as bone marrow, the blood stream, spinal cord, the cornea, liver and pancreas. Adult stem cells have been used to treat some blood and liver diseases as well as bone and cartilage damage. According to Dr. Donald Orlic of the National Human Genome Research Institute, "We are currently finding that these adult stem cells can function as well, perhaps even better than, embryonic stem cells."
These breakthroughs in non-controversial, non-embryonic stem cell research are exciting. They offer hope to families hoping for cures to a lengthy list of serious illnesses and medical conditions. They also threaten to render moot one of the more divisive debates taking place in Washington today - the debate over whether Americans should be forced by Washington politicians to pay for research that destroys human embryos.
Twice now, President Bush has vetoed legislation that would require taxpayers to foot the bill for embryonic stem cell research - research that has consistently failed to produce results and destroys human life in the process. In addition to his second and more recent veto, President Bush signed an executive order supporting more stem cell research that does not require harming or destroying living embryos.
"Destroying human life in the hopes of saving human life is not ethical -- and it is not the only option before us," the President said as he cast his second veto. "We're already seeing remarkable advances in the science and therapeutic uses of stem cells drawn from adults and children, and the blood from umbilical cords -- with no harm to the donor. Researchers value embryonic stem cells because they are pluripotent -- which means that they have the potential to develop into nearly all the cell types and tissues in the body. Researchers are now developing promising new techniques that offer the potential to produce pluripotent stem cells -- without having to destroy human life."
The President's position boils down to this: the federal government should support stem cell research, but it should support the type of stem cell research that is ethical. And as we're now learning, the type of stem cell research that is ethical also happens to be the type of stem cell research that actually offers the greatest promise for medical advancement. Taxpayers don't need to be asked to subsidize the destruction of human embryos, because the greatest potential for stem cell research lies in procedures that don't require embryos to be destroyed.
I support the President's actions. It's becoming clear that human embryos do not have to be destroyed in order for the potential of stem cell research to be fully realized. Spending taxpayer dollars to subsidize the destruction of human embryos is not only unethical, but also unnecessary and fiscally irresponsible.
Many in Congress haven't taken note of these developments in the medical community yet. But the President has taken note of them, and I'm optimistic a majority of the Congress eventually will too. Sometimes Washington is just a little behind the curve.
The federal government should be in the business of protecting - not destroying - innocent human life. Given the potential shown by adult stem cells, and the controversial and non-productive results of embryonic stem cells, the path to me seems clear: We should explore all avenues presented to us by adult stem cells respecting the sanctity of human life.