Bioethical debate is coming out of the deep freeze. The Clinton administration, reversing policies from the Reagan-Bush years, has moved to thaw federal funds for scientific research on living human embryos, inviting a blizzard of conservative protest.

How the new Republican Congress, the Clinton White House, and scientists resolve the dispute over embryo research may spell out the means of resolving future bioethical issues for years to come.

In addition, research on human embryos is developing as an important struggle in defining America's values. The right-to-life community forecasts a bleak future for the dignity of human life if embryo experimentation proceeds. Yet, embryo-research advocates envision breakthroughs in the treatment of a host of ailments if scientists are permitted to explore how human embryos grow and develop.

Harold Varmus, director of the National Institutes of Health (nih), says, "Advances [from embryo research] could spare enormous human suffering and help countless Americans." Embryo research could lead to improved treatment of genetic disorders, birth defects, infertility, and cancer.

However, Randall K. O'Bannon, director of research for the National Right to Life Educational Trust Fund, says, "We strongly oppose the recommendations of the NIH human embryo research panel, which claim that human embryo research is acceptable." He calls research on human embryos "irresponsible manipulation and destruction of human life [ignoring] the unique character of each individual human being."

For the prolife movement, this fight over federal funding of embryo research may become a decisive testing ground of their national strength. Prolifers are in a multifront battle, which ...

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