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America's Culture War: Stem-Cell Research

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Ian Wilmut Granted License for Therapeutic Cloning

by  Brad Harrub, Ph.D.

Embryonic stem cells have yet to show a single successful medical use—a fact that has done little to slow down the onslaught of new research projects in the field. Focus has shifted from ethics and mechanics to the bottom line—money and fame. Many private investors are expecting huge returns as states race to build stem-cell research centers with private money—thus, bypassing federal restrictions. The February 4, 2005 issue of Science contained three separate articles that discussed the current progress of embryonic stem-cell research in the United States and abroad.

California got the ball rolling with its $3 billion initiative, designated as “Proposition 71.” Not to be left behind, other states now are clamoring to secure their own piece of the financial pie. For instance, Wisconsin, the state in which the first human embryonic stem cells were derived in 1998, has proposed an investment of $750 million for stem-cell and other biomedical research over the next few years. And New Jersey Governor Richard Codey has proposed using $150 million from unspent bond income to develop the New Jersey Institute for Stem-Cell Research. These states are far from being alone. The signal that many states are sending is: “We want some of this!”

Part of the drive behind this heightened push for embryonic stem-cell research is coming from overseas. American scientists are worried that developing countries such as Singapore, Japan, South Korea, China, and Taiwan are inching ahead with research that is unhindered by governmental and/or societal restrictions.

On February 8, 2005, Ian Wilmut—the man who cloned the sheep, Dolly—was given a license by British regulators to clone human embryos for research. His intent is to produce cloned embryos and harvest the stem cells from those embryos for further study. Then “the remaining cells [from the embryo—BH] will be destroyed.” Wilmut’s is the second license issued that will allow human cloning in the United Kingdom.

With the current seemingly insatiable drive in this field, it hardly seems likely that scientists will pause to consider the ethics of what they are doing. Over twenty-five years ago, we wondered how many lives would be destroyed as a result of the then-new abortion legislation. A new door has now been opened with embryonic research. And yet, embryonic stem cells have yet to show a single successful medical use.




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