With President Obama reversing the veto that former President George W. Bush placed on a bill the senate passed in 2006 that would have expanded federal funding of embryonic stem research, the debate between pro-choice and right to life groups reignites.
But what really is the hoopla about?
Stem cell research provides much needed information that could possibly present life-saving treatment options for those who suffer from a variety of different forms of cancer, diabetes, spinal cord injuries, Alzheimers, MS, Huntingtons, and Parkinsons. Stem cells are found in basically all multi-cellular organisms. These cells have the power to renew themselves through mitotic cell division and can transform into a diverse range of specialized cells.
There are two fundamental types of mammalian stem cells that can be speceifically used by humans:
1. Embryonic cells
2. Adult cells.
Embryonic stem cells are found in a developing embryo. These stem cells have the potential to differentiate into all of the specialized embryonic tissues, which means that the stem cells of an embryo can make up major organs in the human body such as kidneys, liver heart, skin , etc. Embryonic stem cell research involves the destruction of blastocystes that are formed from laboratory-fertilized eggs, which is the basis for the controversy.
A Blastocyst is an early stage embryo, about four to five days old and it is made up of 50 – 150 cells. These can develop into more than 200 cell types of the human body. In the U.S. alone, there are more than 600,000 laboratory-fertilized embryos that are abandoned and mark for mandatory destruction due to abandonment. Out of that number, maybe a hundred embryos are adopted each year.
So, the issue evolves into what should become of the embryonic stem cells of the embryos that are to be destroyed anyway? If research can be performed on an item ear-marked for elimination, why the roadblock?
Right to Life groups argue that embryos are living human beings at the beginning stages of development. Pro-Choice groups argue that an embryo is not a human being and is not categorized as such until it develops into a baby and is born. The religious corner of the debate believes that life begins at conception and anything that interferes with this process is a sin against God and humanity.
However, the correlation between science and government is the true culprit. When America was founded, the Constitution expressedly dictated a complete separation between religious beliefs and the government. So, the struggle is birthed and debated as it has been for hundreds of years. President Obama commented on that debate in his press conference Monday by saying that “when it comes to stem cell research, rather than furthering discovery, our government has forced what I believe is a false choice between sound science aand moral values. In this case, I believe the two are not consistent.”
When science first devised a plan to help parents who could not get pregnant the old fashioned way through the now popular and infamous procedure of invitrofertilization, the breakthrough was a heralded triumph for mankind. The act of duplicating one of the greatest mysteries of life, and thereby playing God and eliminating Him from the equation at the same time, caused a stir in the religious world.
But in this year of 2009, some thirty plus years since this scientific marvel, people worldwide have used this procedure of IVF. Some who have benefited from IVF are Bible-carrying members of the religious right in America who were against the procedure from the start. But, did any of the recipients of IVF give it a second thought as to what happens to the embryos that they don’t or can’t use due to finances, marital status, health concerns, death, etc.? You know, the octomom’s primary argument of having her embryos implanted at a time that the public believed to be an irresponsible one, was that she considered these embryos as living human beings, her children, and she didn’t want them destroyed.
Therein lies the problem.
“Many thoughtful and decent people are conflicted about, or strongly oppose, this research. I understand their concerns, and we must respect their point of view,” President Obama continued in his press conference. Therefore, Obama’s reversal of the Bush administrations’ stance on the issue of stem cell research takes a dramatic turn from a formerly moral and religious tone to a scientific one.
“The potential it offers,” President Obama said, “is great.”
Remarks of President Barack Obama – As Prepared for Delivery
Signing of Stem Cell Executive Order and Scientific Integrity Presidential Memorandum
March 9, 2009
Today, with the Executive Order I am about to sign, we will bring the change that so many scientists and researchers; doctors and innovators; patients and loved ones have hoped for, and fought for, these past eight years: we will lift the ban on federal funding for promising embryonic stem cell research. We will vigorously support scientists who pursue this research. And we will aim for America to lead the world in the discoveries it one day may yield.
At this moment, the full promise of stem cell research remains unknown, and it should not be overstated. But scientists believe these tiny cells may have the potential to help us understand, and possibly cure, some of our most devastating diseases and conditions. To regenerate a severed spinal cord and lift someone from a wheelchair. To spur insulin production and spare a child from a lifetime of needles. To treat Parkinson’s, cancer, heart disease and others that affect millions of Americans and the people who love them.
But that potential will not reveal itself on its own. Medical miracles do not happen simply by accident. They result from painstaking and costly research – from years of lonely trial and error, much of which never bears fruit – and from a government willing to support that work. From life-saving vaccines, to pioneering cancer treatments, to the sequencing of the human genome – that is the story of scientific progress in America. When government fails to make these investments, opportunities are missed. Promising avenues go unexplored. Some of our best scientists leave for other countries that will sponsor their work. And those countries may surge ahead of ours in the advances that transform our lives.
But in recent years, when it comes to stem cell research, rather than furthering discovery, our government has forced what I believe is a false choice between sound science and moral values. In this case, I believe the two are not inconsistent. As a person of faith, I believe we are called to care for each other and work to ease human suffering. I believe we have been given the capacity and will to pursue this research – and the humanity and conscience to do so responsibly.
It is a difficult and delicate balance. Many thoughtful and decent people are conflicted about, or strongly oppose, this research. I understand their concerns, and we must respect their point of view.
But after much discussion, debate and reflection, the proper course has become clear. The majority of Americans – from across the political spectrum, and of all backgrounds and beliefs – have come to a consensus that we should pursue this research. That the potential it offers is great, and with proper guidelines and strict oversight, the perils can be avoided.
That is a conclusion with which I agree. That is why I am signing this Executive Order, and why I hope Congress will act on a bi-partisan basis to provide further support for this research. We are joined today by many leaders who have reached across the aisle to champion this cause, and I commend them for that work.
Ultimately, I cannot guarantee that we will find the treatments and cures we seek. No President can promise that. But I can promise that we will seek them – actively, responsibly, and with the urgency required to make up for lost ground. Not just by opening up this new frontier of research today, but by supporting promising research of all kinds, including groundbreaking work to convert ordinary human cells into ones that resemble embryonic stem cells.
I can also promise that we will never undertake this research lightly. We will support it only when it is both scientifically worthy and responsibly conducted. We will develop strict guidelines, which we will rigorously enforce, because we cannot ever tolerate misuse or abuse. And we will ensure that our government never opens the door to the use of cloning for human reproduction. It is dangerous, profoundly wrong, and has no place in our society, or any society.
This Order is an important step in advancing the cause of science in America. But let’s be clear: promoting science isn’t just about providing resources – it is also about protecting free and open inquiry. It is about letting scientists like those here today do their jobs, free from manipulation or coercion, and listening to what they tell us, even when it’s inconvenient – especially when it’s inconvenient. It is about ensuring that scientific data is never distorted or concealed to serve a political agenda – and that we make scientific decisions based on facts, not ideology.
By doing this, we will ensure America’s continued global leadership in scientific discoveries and technological breakthroughs. That is essential not only for our economic prosperity, but for the progress of all humanity.
That is why today, I am also signing a Presidential Memorandum directing the head of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy to develop a strategy for restoring scientific integrity to government decision making. To ensure that in this new Administration, we base our public policies on the soundest science; that we appoint scientific advisors based on their credentials and experience, not their politics or ideology; and that we are open and honest with the American people about the science behind our decisions. That is how we will harness the power of science to achieve our goals – to preserve our environment and protect our national security; to create the jobs of the future, and live longer, healthier lives.
As we restore our commitment to science, and resume funding for promising stem cell research, we owe a debt of gratitude to so many tireless advocates, some of whom are with us today, many of whom are not. Today, we honor all those whose names we don’t know, who organized, and raised awareness, and kept on fighting – even when it was too late for them, or for the people they love. And we honor those we know, who used their influence to help others and bring attention to this cause – people like Christopher and Dana Reeve, who we wish could be here to see this moment.
One of Christopher’s friends recalled that he hung a sign on the wall of the exercise room where he did his grueling regimen of physical therapy. It read: “For everyone who thought I couldn’t do it. For everyone who thought I shouldn’t do it. For everyone who said, ‘It’s impossible.’ See you at the finish line.”
Christopher once told a reporter who was interviewing him: “If you came back here in ten years, I expect that I’d walk to the door to greet you.”
Christopher did not get that chance. But if we pursue this research, maybe one day – maybe not in our lifetime, or even in our children’s lifetime – but maybe one day, others like him might.
There is no finish line in the work of science. The race is always with us – the urgent work of giving substance to hope and answering those many bedside prayers, of seeking a day when words like “terminal” and “incurable” are finally retired from our vocabulary.
Today, using every resource at our disposal, with renewed determination to lead the world in the discoveries of this new century, we rededicate ourselves to this work.