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Op Ed from The New York Times
August 12, 2001

Stem Cell Science and the Preservation of Life

[George W. Bush is the 43rd president.]

CRAWFORD, Tex. -- Some of the hardest ethical decisions pit good against good. In the case of stem cells, the promise of miracle cures is set against the protection of developing life. The conflict has left Americans divided, even in their own minds.

Stem cell research is still at an early, uncertain stage, but the hope it offers is amazing: infinitely adaptable human cells to replace damaged or defective tissue and treat a wide variety of diseases.

Yet the ethics of medicine are not infinitely adaptable. There is at least one bright line: We do not end some lives for the medical benefit of others. For me, this is a matter of conviction: a belief that life, including early life, is biologically human, genetically distinct and valuable. But one need not be pro-life to be disturbed by the prospect of fetal farming or cloning to provide spare human parts. Most Americans share a belief that human life should not be reduced to a tool or a means.

There are, however, two ways for the federal government to aggressively promote stem cell research without inviting ethical abuses.

First, we can encourage research on stem cells removed from sources other than embryos: adult cells, umbilical cords and human placentas. Many researchers see great potential in these cells -- and they have already been used to develop several new therapies.

Second, we can encourage research on embryonic stem cell lines that already exist. These cells can reproduce themselves in the laboratory, perhaps indefinitely. Stem cell lines at the University of Wisconsin have been producing cells for over two years. More than 60 of these cell lines now exist around the world. According to the National Institutes of Health, these lines are genetically diverse and sufficient in number for the research ahead.

Therefore my administration has adopted the following policy: Federal funding for research on existing stem cell lines will move forward; federal funding that sanctions or encourages the destruction of additional embryos will not. While it is unethical to end life in medical research, it is ethical to benefit from research where life and death decisions have already been made.

There is a precedent. The only licensed live chickenpox vaccine used in the United States was developed, in part, from cells derived from research involving human embryos. Researchers first grew the virus in embryonic lung cells, which were later cloned and grown in two previously existing cell lines. Many ethical and religious leaders agree that even if the history of this vaccine raises ethical questions, its current use does not.

Stem cell research takes place on a slippery slope of moral concern where much biomedical research is and will be conducted. We must keep our ethical footing. Government has a clear duty to promote scientific discovery -- and a duty to define certain boundaries:

Under my policy, existing stem cell lines, to be used in publicly supported research, must be derived (1) with the informed consent of donors, (2) from excess embryos created solely for reproductive purposes and (3) without any financial inducements to the donors.

I have directed the National Institutes of Health to establish a national human embryonic stem cell registry. This will ensure that ethical research standards are observed by all recipients of federal funding.

Soon I will appoint a Presidential Council on Bioethics, chaired by Dr. Leon Kass, to advise my administration on moral and scientific questions raised by biomedical research. My administration supports legislative efforts to prohibit the cloning of human beings for any purpose, and also to prohibit the production of human embryos solely to be destroyed in medical research.

As we enter the new territory of modern science, the choices will only grow more difficult. The new technologies we create with their potential to cure disease and relieve suffering -- may well define our age. But we will also be defined by the care and sense of self-restraint and responsibility with which we took up these new powers.

Power -- even technological power -- is always judged by its ends and its means. Seeking noble ends by any means is unacceptable when life itself is in the balance.

Biomedical progress should be welcomed, promoted and funded -- yet it can and must be humanized. Caution is demanded, because second thoughts will come too late. As we work to extend our lives, we must do so in ways that preserve our humanity.

Text of President Bush’s Stem Cell Speech

Priests for Life
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