Beyond the Impasse to What?

Stem-cell research may not need human embryos after all. But why are we researching in the first place?

The human embryonic stem cell debate has been at an impasse since the discovery of the unusual properties of unique precursor cells. In 1998 two teams of privately-funded researchers were able to isolate and culture stem cells from human embryos. Some scientists believe these cells may be used to treat and cure a number of diseases including Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, diabetes, and other afflictions. The problem has been that in the process of harvesting the stem cells the embryos are necessarily destroyed. For many Christians and others, that's simply too high a price to pay for scientific progress. To make matters more troublesome, in January 1999, the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) announced that U. S. tax-dollars might be used to finance embryonic stem cell research, even though there has been a congressional moratorium on federally funded human embryo research since 1994. DHHS's interpretation of the ban has been quite controversial, resulting in congressional hearings on the matter. Both sides have been at loggerheads because the debate ultimately focuses on the moral status of the human embryo, a topic that has plagued American culture since at least the 1970s. While opponents of human embryonic stem cell research have called for maintaining the ban on such research, they have universally supported other forms of stem-cell research that do not harm embryos. A report published in the August 14, 2000, Journal of Neuroscience Research, may portend an end to the impasse. According to news reports, Dr. Ira Black of the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey has been able to transform blood stem cells into neurons, which may be used to repair brain cells and spinal cords. In this case, these stem ...

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