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Monday, Feb. 26
The Indiana Daily Student

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Stem cell debate raises ethical, political concerns

In the months leading up to the 2008 presidential election, Barack Obama campaigned with a platform that promised change. Just a few months into his term, Obama initiated some of these changes regarding stem cell research.

He signed an executive order March 9, 2009, that greatly reduced restrictions on this study. The highly controversial order has sparked the interest of many politicians and organizations as they debate the ethical issues surrounding the topic.

Stem cell research involves the extraction of stem cells from a variety of sources. These unspecialized cells have the potential to transform into several types of body cells, and many scientists believe they hold the key to curing diseases and replacing damaged cells inside the body.

The ethical debate originates from the sources – stem cells can come from adult and embryonic cells. Many disagree with the use of embryonic stem cells because the research harvests fertilized eggs for scientific study. Many, including former president George W. Bush, believe the act weakens the sanctity of human life.

Before the order, strict limits existed on federal funding of embryonic stem cell research. The White House now promotes what is described as responsible exploration of the science.

Miracle cure or murder?

Several groups support Obama’s direction, including the government-funded National Institutes of Health, the International Society for Stem Cell Research and the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

The groups said they believe stem cell research is the gateway to a healthier future for Americans and that embryonic stem cells might have more potential than adult ones. They also said stem cells could be used in future clinical trials.

“Because the embryonic stem cells have all the building blocks for a human being, we can test medical drugs early, and hopefully at some point in time, we will have a process in place that will take the place of testing for safety on human beings,” said Mark Frankel of the AAAS.

Many Republicans and organizations such as Right to Life oppose embryonic stem cell research. Adversaries of the studies argue that destroying embryos for the cultivation of stem cells is unethical. They believe that stem cell research can be done responsibly when it utilizes adult cells and cells from umbilical cords and placentas.

“I believe it is morally abhorrent to end an innocent human life, and I also believe it is morally wrong to use the tax dollars of millions of pro-life Americans to fund research that involves the destruction of human embryos,” Representative Mike Pence, R-Ind., said.

Pence also pointed to information shown in a 2009 study from Wayne State University, which showed that embryonic stem cells have failed to yield treatment for any patients while adult stem cells have provided some relief for more than 80 diseases.

“The science is clear. The future of disease treatment is in non-embryonic stem cells, and I support funding for this ethical research,” Pence said.

Right to Life shares similar views.

“I believe God creates life, and an embryo is life,” said Dave Koontz, the Indiana Right to Life director. “What embryonic stem cells basically do is create life in some format and then kill it in order to get the cells.”

While some have praised Obama for his order expanding the study of embryonic stem cells, others have criticized the move on the basis of ethics. Both sides, however, support research involving adult stem cells.

“We’re still doing some very basic research, so it is not ready for prime-time use, but there are scientists who are working to try to develop colonies of adult stem cells that can be studied to see if they are as good as embryonic stem cells,” Frankel said.

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