Last Build Date: Thu, 07 Jun 2007 00:24:07 -0600Copyright: Copyright 2007
Thu, 07 Jun 2007 00:24:07 -0600
In May, 2005, the President's Council on Bioethics published a White Paper entitled "Alternative Sources of Human Pluripotent Stem Cells." This report outlines a range of proposals for pursuing stem cell research in a manner that could sustain broad social consensus while opening the fullest prospects for advances in science and medicine.
These techniques are already being developed. One involves obtaining stem cells from IVF embryos that have already died---the moral equivalent of harvesting organs from cadavers. Two other approaches--'altered nuclear transfer' and direct reprogramming of ordinary body cells--- do not involve the use of IVF embryos at all. Moreover, they offer the additional scientific advantage of providing tailor-made pluripotent stem cell lines of specific genetic types. These stem cells would be of great value for use in standardized scientific studies of genetic diseases, controlled testing for drug development, and possibly patient-specific immune-compatible cell therapies. Each of these approaches would avoid the current ethical and political controversy while opening full federal funding of stem cell research.
Encouraging advances in the development of these techniques have already been reported by top stem cell biologists publishing in leading scientific journals. In studies using mice, MIT stem cell biologist Rudolf Jaenisch has established proof-of-principle for altered nuclear transfer, and just this week in a series of articles in Nature magazine Jaenisch and researchers in Japan report dramatic progress in direct reprogramming. Because these methods do not involve the use of living embryos, the pluripotent stem cell lines produced by them would qualify for full federal funding.
This week, the House has an opportunity to consider the two bills sent on from the Senate. One of the bills, S.5, would provide federal funding for studies with stem cell lines derived from embryos left over from IVF clinics. Although its research purpose is noble, it would allow and encourage the destruction of human embryos, and the President will therefore veto the bill, as he did last year. And again, it appears the veto will not be overriden, so the passage of S.5 will not result in any new stem cell lines that qualify for NIH support.
The second bill, S.30, would specifically support the development of the alternative methods put forward by the President's Council on Bioethics. This bill, which passed the Senate with a large bipartisan majority, offers the prospect of new pluripotent stem cell lines that would qualify for federal funding. It would open a path toward scientific advances and away from social divisions. And, because it adequately addresses ethical issues, it would not be subject to a veto.
In charting our nation's course, the leaders of the House should seek a positive spirit in the search for a way forward with consensus, and should allow both bills, not just S.5, to be debated and voted on. Respect for human life is not a partisan issue. In 1999 President Clinton's National Bioethics Advisory Commission issued a report entitled: "Ethical Issues in Human Stem Cell Research." Acknowledging that a week old human embryo is a form of human life that deserves respect, the Commission stated: "In our judgment, the derivation of stem cells from embryos remaining following infertility treatments is justifiable only if no less morally problematic alternatives are available for advancing the research."
Before Congress votes to provide federal funding for research that deeply offends the moral values of millions of Americans, we should explore the promising prospects of a technological solution that would provide ethically acceptable means of obtaining pluripotent stem cell lines. Such a win-win solution would be in keeping with the constructive and creative spirit of the American people and, at this crucial moment in the advance of science, would be a triumph for our nation as a whole.
Mon, 05 Mar 2007 12:30:47 -0600
I don't say this as a distant observer but as someone who has had his hands deep in the soil on this issue for a number of years. As Chairman of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, I directed the Subcommittee's three-year effort to bolster America's port security and supply chain security. The challenge was clear: Many experts believe that a maritime container is the ideal platform to transport nuclear or radiological material or a nuclear device into the United States. As the 9-11 Commission put it so succinctly, "opportunities to do harm are as great, or greater, in maritime or surface transportation." Since 90 percent of global trade moves in maritime containers, we can not allow these containers to be utilized to transport Weapons of Mass Destruction. The consequences of such an event would be devastating to our way of life and our economy. Instead, we must secure our supply chain before we pay the high price of an attack, and seek the appropriate balance between two often competing priorities: security and speed.
This does not mean that scanning 100 percent of cargo should not be our goal. In that vein, the SAFE Port Act included my bipartisan measure to develop a pilot program to test scanning technology in a real-world environment at six foreign ports throughout this year. This program, the Secure Freight Initiative, was recently unveiled by the Department of Homeland Security and we are on the verge of its implementation. I am very encouraged by this public-private partnership and its vision "to create a globally networked array of detection equipment that will be configured to enable real-time streaming of container images and radiological detection data to other countries engaged in maritime trade." I am gratified that numerous major U.S. companies, including several Fortune 500 entities, have signed this document along with the Departments of Homeland Security, Energy and State.
Adequately testing and implementing new technologies at these ports will enable us to work out the kinks before expanding on a much broader scale. This will allow other countries to get an idea of what the system will look like and how it will be deployed on their shores. Importantly, for foreign-based screening to succeed, the cooperation of other nations will be essential. Simply put, aggressively forcing the door open will not make 100 percent scanning a reality any faster and will severely hurt global trade and the American consumer. There is not lack of resolve; There is no lack of will; There is no bureaucratic hold ups. We are moving forward here in a rational matter - aggressively as possible but not playing to fear and demagoguery.
Once this testing is complete, the Department of Homeland Security will report to Congress on results. If the Secure Freight Initiative proves successful, then a move towards full-scale implementation of the program would follow expeditiously. It is imperative that we complete the pilot project to know what's possible, before mandating a wide-ranging requirement that is impossible to meet. We know what the consequences will be if we fail to address our port security problems. Let's move beyond the issues we have already addressed and pass bi-partisan security legislation based on sound policy rather than simply giving in to political sound bites and shenanigans.