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BIOETHICS COUNCIL EXPLORES ALTERNATIVE SOURCES OF HUMAN PLURIPOTENT STEM CELLS

The President's Council on Bioethics has released its analysis on potential alternative sources of human pluripotent stems cells. The Council was created by President George W. Bush in 2001 to advise his office on bioethical issues related to advances in biomedical science and technology. In January 2004, the Council published Monitoring Stem Cell Research, a report providing an overview of the law, ethics, and science of stem cell research. With this new report, issued as a white paper in May 2005, the Council focused on the ethical and scientific challenges facing this research.

Although, at present, new human embryonic cell lines cannot be obtained without destroying human embryos, the Council explored options that might permit scientists to resolve the conflict between the goals of increasing scientific knowledge and treating human disease and maintaining protection and respect for human life. In his letter to the president, Council Chairman Leon R. Kass, MD, offered the paper as the Council's assistance “to promote a biomedical science that will simultaneously serve human needs and preserve human dignity.”

Human embryonic stem cells are useful for science because of their pluripotency and longevity. However, in 1995, Congress enacted legislation prohibiting the use of federal funds for research in which human embryos are destroyed or harmed. In 2001, President Bush instituted the current policy, which permits federal funding for research on those embryonic stem cell lines already in existence but not for derivation or use of any new lines. Many researchers have called for a further loosening of the restrictions but have met with equally passionate arguments in opposition.

In their white paper, the Council examined four broad approaches for the derivation of stem cells: (1) by extracting cells from embryos that had already died spontaneously, (2) by nonharmful biopsy of living embryos, (3) by extracting …

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