Bush Approves Limited Stem Cell Research

CRAWFORD, Texas, August 10, 2001 (ENS) - In a nationwide televised address from his ranch Thursday night, President George W. Bush delivered his long awaited position on the use of federal funds for stem cell research. He will permit federal monies to be used for research on existing stem cell lines, but not to create new lines.

Bush will establish a President's Council on Bioethics to monitor the controversial research.

Stem cell research, which could grow a variety of complete body parts from the cells of embryos, could eventually help people suffering from diseases such as Parkinson's and juvenile diabetes.

The most promising stem cells are harvested from fertilized eggs, embryos, that are destroyed in obtaining the stem cells. Current research uses embryos slated for the disposal in in vitro fertilization laboratories.


President George W. Bush (Photo courtesy the White House)
Ethical considerations concerning the use of cells that could become human beings have divided the country between those who believe such use is immoral and those who believe in the importance of relieving the suffering of the living.

The President said, "Research on embryonic stem cells raises profound ethical questions, because extracting the stem cell destroys the embryo, and thus destroys its potential for life. Like a snowflake, each of these embryos is unique, with the unique genetic potential of an individual human being."

"As a result of private research," President Bush said, "more than 60 genetically diverse stem cell lines already exist. They were created from embryos that have already been destroyed, and they have the ability to regenerate themselves indefinitely, creating ongoing opportunities for research. I have concluded that we should allow federal funds to be used for research on these existing stem cell lines, where the life and death decision has already been made."

Federal funds will only be used for research on existing stem cell lines that were derived with the informed consent of the donors; from excess embryos created solely for reproductive purposes; and without any financial inducements to the donors.

In order to ensure that federal funds are used to support only stem cell research that is scientifically sound, legal, and ethical, the National Institutes of Health will examine the derivation of all existing stem cell lines and create a registry of those lines that satisfy this criteria. More than 60 existing stem cell lines from genetically diverse populations around the world are expected to be available for federally funded research.

No federal funds will be used for the derivation or use of stem cell lines derived from newly destroyed embryos; the creation of any human embryos for research purposes; or the cloning of human embryos for any purpose.

Bush made his decision after weeks of consultations with a wide range of scientists, religious leaders, and medical experts. "Leading scientists tell me research on these 60 lines has great promise that could lead to breakthrough therapies and cures," the President said.

"This 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.

Bush pointed to the scientific progress that can be made through aggressive federal funding of research on umbilical cord placenta, adult and animal stem cells "which do not involve the same moral dilemma." In 2001, the federal government will spend $250 million on this research.

Bush will name a President's council to "recommend appropriate guidelines and regulations, and to consider all of the medical and ethical ramifications of biomedical innovation," he said.

The council will be chaired by Dr. Leon Kass, a biomedical ethicist from the University of Chicago. It will include scientists, doctors, ethicists, lawyers, and theologians.

"This council will keep us apprised of new developments and give our nation a forum to continue to discuss and evaluate these important issues," the President said. "As we go forward, I hope we will always be guided by both intellect and heart, by both our capabilities and our conscience."

The President was under pressure from both sides in the debate. Do No Harm; The Coalition of Americans for Research Ethics sent 140,000 petitions to the White House that said, "I do not want my tax dollars used for research that destroys some human lives for the sake of others. Please revoke the National Institutes of Health guidelines that encourage killing human embryos for their stem cells. Instead, please support increased funding for adult stem cell research and other morally acceptable alternatives."

On the other side, Dr. Ted Peters, a Lutheran minister and Gaymon Bennett, a Wesleyan Theologian, are speaking in favor of stem cell research. Both work at the Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences in Berkeley, California, but are speaking independent of their affiliation with the center.

"It is our considered judgment that not only is this research morally permissible, but that there is an ethical and theological mandate to actively support it," the two theologians said. "To do otherwise, we have concluded, would be negligent. In short, to not support stem cell research is unethical."