Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Good News

In April, I lamented the fact that the new guidelines for stem cell research issued by the National Institutes for Health did exactly the opposite of what President Obama had promised. Instead of widening the pool of embryonic stem cell lines available for research, the rigorous ethical requirements in fact would exclude many more of those lines than were excluded under the Bush administration. That foul-up has been rectified, according to this Washington Post article:

Hundreds of embryonic stem cell lines, whose use in the United States had effectively been curtailed by the Bush administration, can be used to study disorders and develop cures if researchers can show the cells were derived using ethical procedures, according to new rules issued by the federal government yesterday. ...

In a move that drew praise from advocates of stem cell research and bitter criticism from opponents, the NIH said it will allow the use of any existing stem cell line that was created ethically. Acting NIH Director Raynard Kington said an NIH committee comprising scientists, ethicists and advocates will evaluate older lines to assess how each was derived.

He said all embryonic stem cell lines that qualified for federal funding would have to meet a series of ethical requirements: The embryo that was destroyed to create a line must have been discarded after an in vitro fertilization procedure, and the donors must have been informed that the embryo would be destroyed for stem cell research and made fully cognizant of their choices, including donating the embryo to another couple who want a baby. No donors could have been paid for an embryo, and no threats or inducements could have been used to nudge couples toward making a donation.

The new guidelines are a major improvement over the ones originally issued (see my April post linked above). The original rules required that a specific set of guidelines had to be followed rigidly, and made the rules retroactive so that if old lines were developed from embryos that were donated under systems that did not exactly replicate the new guidelines those lines could not be used. The new guidelines will accomplish the goal of using stem cells and stem cell lines which were obtained ethically.

The original guidelines had obviously been developed to defuse the ire of the Religious Reich, which continues to see the use of embryonic stem cells for research as heinous because the frozen embryos are babies and their destruction abortion, hence murder. That sector of our population weren't going to be happy with any embryonic stem cell research, so their input into the process was designed to shut down that entire line of scientific inquiry. They weren't happy then and they're really unhappy now.


Embryonic stem cell research is a promising tool for fighting such devastating diseases and conditions as diabetes, Alzheimer's Disease, and spinal cord injuries, and we need all the tools we can get in that fight. I think the new rules cover the ethical aspects nicely, even if they don't suit those whose agenda claims to be about the sanctity of life, but is really more about controlling women and their sexuality.

The fact that the rules have been changed to be more flexible and more reasonable restores my faith in government and in the Obama White House. Rational input from the researchers and medical ethicists played a big role in the new rules, something that didn't and couldn't happen in the last administration.

That's change I can believe in.

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