President Bush announced this month that the federal government will no longer fund research involving stem-cells obtained at the cost of destroying human embryos, nor will the United States support any other research utilizing newly- created stem cells. Publicly funded researchers will be restricted in their studies and experimentation to the estimated 60 genetic lines that were derived from embryos prior to August 2001.
Since stem cells are in the initial stage of their development and have not yet begun to form into any specific cell type, they may potentially be used to replace tissue in any part of the body. They can theoretically be used to replace diseased, damaged or dying, and therein cure a variety of diseases including paralysis, Parkinson's Disease, Alzheimer's, diabetes and cancer.
Bush's action to restrict stem-cell research is a poor one in that it will largely stifle our nation's public research centers' ability to investigate this promising field. Stem cells may hold the key to providing solutions to previously incurable - and often debilitating - diseases.
Researchers maintain that the existing genetic lines of stem cells are incapable of producing the results they are seeking. They wish to develop new, and perhaps more robust and versatile lines, increasing the chances of successful assimilation into existing tissues.
The acquisition of a new genetic line of stem cells is at the cost of an embryo, but unlike a fetus, a human embryo is more similar to a group of skin cells than a human being. An embryo is a small cluster of cells produced immediately after fertilization lacking specific functions or structural differentiation from one another. This ball of stem cells is gathered for testing purposes and reproduced in the lab during the second to third day of development, far shy from their transition into a fetus at eight weeks.
This stifling of our ability to research a field wielding this much potential may hinder our position in the global power scale. The United States has achieved much of its dominant international position by our development and promotion of technology.
For comparison, consider the National Aeronautics and Space Association. NASA is primarily responsible for our abilities in the fields of flight, rocketry, global communications and computing. If, for example, flight to the moon were passed over by the United States, other nations would have been given the opportunity to develop the technology that earned the United States its present seat of international influence and security. The global community - and our position in it - would be far different.
The president's decision to hinder stem-cell research also comes at a substantial economic cost to the nation. Projections for the market of potential therapies developed from stem cells are in the tens of billions of dollars. Nations without restrictions upon stem-cell research are far more likely to reap the benefits from this burgeoning scientific field.
It is true that science needs to be scrutinized under an ethical lens, and the deep consideration President Bush has given the issue is appropriate. But the potential, concrete benefits to mankind - the ability to replace damaged tissue and thereby ameliorate man's suffering from paralysis, disorders of neurological decay, diabetes, cancer and innumerable other ailments - far outweigh the costs. The sanctity of human life is more nobly advanced by pursuing the awesome potential of stem-cell research. The United States, and the health and well-being of its citizens, cannot afford to sacrifice such potential.