Science Panel Wants Guidelines for Stem Cell Research

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Apr 26, 2005   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

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by Steven Ertelt Editor
April 26, 2005

Washington, DC ( — The National Academy of Sciences said on Tuesday that embryonic stem cell research is moving ahead despite debates over government funding of it at the national and state level. With that in mind, the panel said guidelines for the research are needed.

The scientific board urged research universities and private companies to established ethical guidelines governing the unproven research. NAS says such guidelines will help reassure the public that the controversial research will not spiral out of control.

"The premise is not to advocate that the work be done — that has already been debated with some consensus reached in the scientific community and elsewhere — but rather to start with the presumption that the work is important for human welfare, that it will be done, and that it should be conducted in a framework that addresses scientific, ethical, medical, and social concerns," the panel said in its report.

Yet, the scientific community has not coalesced around embryonic stem cell research.

"There is too much hype about embryonic stems and at this point there is no data that cures are imminent," says Dr. Micheline Mathews-Roth, a researcher at Harvard.

Robert Hoffman, of the American medical research company AntiCancer Inc., agrees and says adult stem cells are more effective and avoid the political controversy.

"You don’t have any political problems … like you would using embryonic stem cells," Hoffman said.

Backers of embryonic stem cell research hailed the National Academy of Sciences report.

Daniel Perry, president of the Coalition for the Advancement of Medical Research, a biotech lobbying group, told Reuters, "The strong ethical standards in this timely report should give congressional champions of research even more support to expand the current federal stem-cell policy, and should give those who are still waiting on the sidelines a reason to get in the game."

The National Academy of Sciences claims that the American public "increasingly supports this area of research and its potential to advance human health."

However, that’s not what recent polls on the issue of stem cell research have shown.

An August 2004 poll conducted by Wilson Research Strategies, shows 53 percent of respondents opposed "using tax dollars to pay for the kind of stem cell research that requires the killing of human embryos," while only 38 percent support it.

Polls also show the American public favors banning human cloning used to further embryonic stem cell research.

An International Communications Research poll from August 13-17 asked, "Should scientists be allowed to use human cloning to create a supply of human embryos to be destroyed in medical research." Some 80% the public said no.

A Wilson Research Strategies poll, also conducted in August, found that 69% believed that all human cloning should be banned, while only 24% believed that cloning should be allowed only to create human embryos for stem cell research.

President Bush announced his stem cell research funding policy in August 2001.

While the president limited using tax dollars to fund embryonic stem cells, he authorized more than $190 million on adult stem cell research, which has already produced dozens of cures and treatments.