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Reader opinion

A way to research without destroying life

A way to research without destroying life

August 20, 2005|Roscoe Bartlett

Stem cell research is complicated, but the question facing you, the Congress, President Bush and elected officials in Maryland is very simple. Should your tax dollars be used to destroy healthy human embryos to provide raw fodder for scientific research in the hopes of some day helping other people by developing miraculous treatments or cures for devastating conditions and diseases?

Here is a brief explanation about stem cell research. Stem cells have the ability to copy themselves as well as create other types of tissues. There are two basic types at issue: Adult stem cells and embryonic or pluripotent stem cells.

Adult stem cells, such as in bone marrow or umbilical cords, produce many different kinds, but so far not every kind of human tissue. Thirty years of research on adult stem cells have produced treatments for more than 58 conditions and helped thousands of human patients.

However, most scientists believe that there may be greater potential for medical applications from embryonic stem cells because they are pluripotent - meaning capable of producing all 210 kinds of human tissue. Human embryonic stem cell-lines were first produced six years ago using a method that destroys healthy embryos.

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In 2001, President Bush decided that federal taxpayers should not pay to destroy human embryos, but approved federal funding for research on the existing embryonic stem-cell lines. Those stem cell lines are limited in number, contaminated with mice genes, and won't last forever. That's why Congress is again debating this issue.

As the only scientist in the Congress with a Ph.D. in Human Physiology who has conducted medical research at the National Institutes of Health and has a 100 percent pro-life voting record, I believe that it is both morally reprehensible and also scientifically unnecessary to destroy human embryos to engage in embryonic stem cell research. That is why I opposed H.R. 810/S. 471 and welcome President Bush's commitment to veto a bill that would change federal government policy and force you as a taxpayer to pay for the destruction of healthy human embryos.

I have worked for four years on an alternative approach to promote embryonic stem cell research without creating or harming human embryos. On June 30, I introduced a bill, H.R. 3144, the "Respect for Life Pluripotent Stem Cell Act of 2005." It is S.1557 in the Senate and was introduced by Sen. Tom Coburn, who is also an OB-GYN. Instead of dividing our nation over this issue, this bill would bridge the gap between the ethical and scientific dilemmas other stem cell legislation presents.

H.R. 3144 would approve $15 million this year and more money through 2010 and direct the National Institutes of Health to research only in animals alternative methods of producing the pluripotent stem-cell lines desired for scientific research without creating or destroying embryos.

H.R. 3144 was drafted with assistance from the Bush Administration. The research it would fund has been supported by The Director of the NIH Stem Cell Task Force, Dr. James Battey. All of the witnesses and senators at a July 12 hearing about stem cell research chaired by U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter supported H.R. 3144.

It would be a loss for the country if President Bush does not also have H.R. 3144/S.1557 on his desk to sign when he vetoes H.R. 810/S. 471. A veto would not be overridden. That could cost years in federal contributions to embryonic stem cell research. H.R. 3144/S. 1557 is a bill that President Bush would sign into law. However, the House and Senate first have to approve it. The House approved H.R. 810 this spring before H.R. 3144 was introduced. The Senate is expected to vote this fall on a number of stem cell research bills, including S. 1557.

A person is a person, no matter how small. Every single embryo is genetically distinct and uniquely human with the capacity to develop into a baby who could be the next Albert Einstein. One of my grandmothers died from Lou Gehrig's disease, my mother died from Alzheimer's and my heart breaks when I meet children suffering from juvenile diabetes.

That is why I strongly advocate research using pluripotent stem-cell lines that may be derived from several sources, including from embryos without creating or harming them. This must be proved in animals first.

U.S. Rep. Roscoe Bartlett represents
Maryland's 6th District.

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