Policy: Stem Cell Wars, Episode III

Last week’s news that Korean scientists have been able to develop an efficient technique for harvesting stem cells is creating quite a stir. Over the weekend, President Bush made it clear that he would veto any legislation which leads towards cloning, or as he put it "destroys life in order to preserve life" despite the arguments from researchers who say the experiments have nothing to do with cloning babies. That sets up a fight on Tuesday in Washington between supporters of therapeutic cloning and opponents who  say stem cell research is morally wrong.  There are two bills in Congress aimed at easing restrictions, both of which have "strong bipartisan support" in the estimation of the New York Times.   Many researchers are saying neither bill accomplishes particularly much.

The Castle-DeGette Bill would allow limited use of embryos left over from fertility treatments for scientific research. .S.681 The Cord Blood Stem Cell Act of 2005, would attempt to get around the moral issues involved in cloning by creating a national stockpile of cord blood stem cells and bone marrow for futher research.   

Indications are strong that Bush will use his veto to try to kill Castle-DeGette if it
passes. Supporters of Castle-DeGette are arguing that because the legislation authorizes research only on embryos that otherwise would "go to waste", no harm is being done. The Pro-Life camp meanwhile, is basically saying no way, it doesn’t matter.  We’re not interested.  This is not for us.  This is evil.

Interestingly, this seems to be one fight which is increasingly dominated by Republicans. The loudest voices on both sides, both for and against, are Republicans. Democrats are
supporting the measure, but rather quietly. That is probably a sign of the times. 

The thinking on the Democrats’ part is clearly that this is another round like the Schiavo battle. Polls show the majority of Americans support stem cell research.  Very few seem all that worked up about the story.  America will watch Tom DeLay and his team take the issue all the way, and will be disgusted. That may or may not be the way it happens. We’ll have to wait and see.  Meanwhile in Korea, the government shows no signs of slowing down. Over the weekend, health officials announced they will
seek funding for an international consortium which would bring foreign researchers in to work on further research. Initial reports are that one of those involved, will be Ian Wilmut, the man who created Dolly the sheep.  In another move, the Korean government unveiled plans over the weekend to create a "tax-free" international zone on the island of Cheju, where a medical center will be set up to attract foreign patients. 

One government official is quoted as saying the experiment gives South Korea a "two year head start." 

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