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Balancing Values in the Stem Cell Debate

[The following appeared 18 July 2006 as a letter to the editor in the Washington Post.]

AAAS CEO Alan I. Leshner

Robert P. George and Eric Cohen ["Stem Cells Without Moral Corruption," op-ed, July 6] take the extreme view that all efforts to produce potentially lifesaving stem cells from human blastocysts, or very early stage embryos—even those left over from fertility procedures—are a threat to the sanctity of human life. Yet no mention was made of the sanctity of the lives of hundreds of thousands of Americans with spinal cord injuries who could benefit tremendously from future therapies. Nor did they explain that embryonic stem cells might someday replace deteriorating dopamine-secreting nerve cells for the approximately 1 million Americans with Parkinson’s disease.

Extreme arguments don’t reflect mainstream U.S. public or scientific opinion. A poll by Research America found that nearly 60 percent of all Americans favor the use of human embryonic stem cells for research. Moreover, about 60 percent said using excess embryos from fertility clinics for research poses no ethical dilemma. Support for embryonic stem cell research crosses political party lines, and leading science organizations have upheld stem cells’ promise while decrying any attempts at human cloning.

A few intriguing new methods might eventually allow researchers to bypass sanctity-of-life arguments. But those efforts remain preliminary, and particularly since embryonic stem cells appear far more promising than adult cells, we must aggressively pursue embryonic stem cells from human blastocysts.

Chief Executive Officer
American Association for the Advancement of Science
Washington, D.C.