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Stem cell research awaits shifting tide

Page 2 of 2 -- Addressing convention-goers, Ron Reagan espoused that there should be no partisanship when it comes to using embryonic stem cells in medicine. It was clear that he wasn't the son of a famous Republican crossing into the Democrats' parlor merely to stir things up, but a man with the mission of getting folks in every livingroom to recognize the vast potential of stem cells and how some day doctors might do the obvious -- treat the body with its own cells, rather than abrasive chemicals.

And, yes, if the stem cell debate in this country were a ship, the ship has run hard aground on a sandbar of partisan prejudices: Democrats versus Republicans; right-to-lifers and born-again Christians versus prochoicers and liberal agitators. The vessel's propeller churns, but the vessel goes nowhere.

How can religious groups be the deciders, when their faiths are based on ancient texts that are far removed from today's science? How can politicians be the deciders, driven as they are by the desires of their constituencies? How can even medical researchers be the deciders, when their daily job is to surmount biological hurdles whatever the context?

Singapore is a prime example of a population that was able to slide off the sandbar by forming a committee that attended to the voices of many different persuasions. In the United States, although such committees have convened in years past, their findings have never been adopted.

Meanwhile, at Boston IVF, one of the nation's largest fertility clinics, reportedly 30-40 percent of couples are choosing to contribute their surplus embryos to a stem-cell project at Harvard University. There, supported by private funding and avoiding federal-funding restrictions, a team is using the donated embryos to make new stem cell lines.

Stem cell medicine makes too much sense for partisanship to hold it back in this country. When the tide is high enough, the vessel will float off the bar; the debate will be over.

Ann Parson is the author of "The Proteus Effect; Stem Cells and Their Promise for Medicine," which will be published in September and coauthor of "Decoding Darkness; The Search for the Genetic Causes of Alzheimer's Disease."  

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