Scientists to Congress: Pass the stem cell law ... while you still can

The people who bring you advances in medical research have an urgent message for Congress: Pass the Stem Cell Research Advancement Act … while you still can.

In a letter sent Friday to the leadership of the House of Representatives and the Senate, the deans of American medical schools, chief executives of U.S. hospitals and heads of organizations with names like the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology and the American Society of Human Genetics said that federal funding for human embryonic stem cell research “is essential” if scientists are to succeed in turning the cells into usable treatments.

“The therapeutic potential of human embryonic stem cells is remarkable and could well prove to be one of the most significant paradigm-shifting advances in the history of medical science,” they wrote. “These cells have the unique potential to differentiate into any human cell type and offer real hope of life-affirming treatments for diabetes, damaged heart tissue, arthritis, Parkinson’s, ALS and spinal cord injuries, to name but a few examples.”

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The law would reiterate that no federal money can be used to destroy embryos or create cell lines. One of the pluses of passage is that it would ensure that the controversial research be conducted according to strict ethical rules.

The bill has been passed twice before by bipartisan Congresses, though in both cases it was vetoed by then-President George W. Bush. The imperative to pass it in this congressional session was thought to have diminished after President Obama broadened the scope of federal support for stem cell research though an executive order. Then the surprise decision by a U.S. district judge to halt federal funding of embryonic stem-cell research (which was temporarily reversed) underscored the need for congressional action.

And if that’s going to happen, there’s no time like the present.

The scientists don’t say so explicitly, but they must be thinking that their chances will be worse come January, when majority control of the House shifts to the Republicans. Here’s what they did say:


“We urge you to put this legislation on the floor calendar and pass it when Congress returns in November to help ensure the potential of this research is translated into treatments and cures.”

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