Moral Debate and Federal Dollars

Ongoing debate surrounds the use of federal funding for embryonic stem cell research. Opponents of research using human embryonic stem cells believe that human life begins when an egg is fertilized; that an embryo is a human being; and that destruction of a human embryo—even for research—is morally objectionable.

Some also say that embryonic stem cell research is unnecessary because adult stem cells and the "induced pluripotent" type (adult stem cells that have reverted to their embryonic state) are adequate substitutes.

Proponents, on the other hand, hold that a fertilized egg is not a human being at least until it has been implanted in a woman's uterus. Embryos left over from in vitro fertility treatments in a fertilization clinic are often discarded, they assert, and should be used instead for potentially lifesaving medical research. Supporters also say that embryonic stem cells are different from-and potentially superior to-other stem cell types, and should not be excluded from study.

In March 2009, federal funding restrictions were loosened for embryonic stem cell research, leaving it to the National Institutes of Health to develop ethical guidelines. In September, the National Institutes of Health established an advisory board charged with this task.
Case Western Reserve School of Medicine Dean Pamela B. Davis, MD, PhD, is a member of the panel.