Britain has just opened the world’s first embryonic stem cell bank. This bank will supply stem cell lines to researchers looking for insight into and possible cures for various medical conditions.
Federal funding for such research is prohibited in the United States by an executive order from President Bush. A few states such as New Jersey and California are expected to start offering financial support as well as stem cell banks soon, but experts suggest the United States is already far behind other countries.
The debate centers around whether or not the embryos from which such stem cells are derived are in fact human life to be protected by moral, ethical and legal rights. Opponents argue that life and consciousness begin at conception and such research amounts to murder. Advocates of stem cell research argue that it has been established scientifically that there are no pain receptors or discrete organs in very young embryos. New research also suggests that reasoning and cognitive abilities are not fully developed in humans until early adulthood.
The debate will no doubt continue, but while it does, progress will also continues. Unfortunately, those of us in the United States could find ourselves left behind should the technology mature into actual cures.
There has already been one success story. A teenage patient in the United States who needed a heart transplant after a nail gun accident instead choose to be injected with stem cells. His recovery was immediate and remarkable. However, the FDA has ordered such procedures to be discontinued as they have not yet approved stem cells for such use. A year later, approval is still not in sight.