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Thursday, 16 August, 2001, 12:19 GMT 13:19 UK
Stem cell research: The right decision?
Select the link below to watch the edition of Talking Point On Air dedicated to this issue:

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President George W Bush has approved federal funding for limited medical research on stem cells extracted from human embryos.

Mr Bush said he had decided in favour of funding because of the potential for new cures for diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's.

Many scientists say the move does not go far enough because it limits the research to existing stem cell tissues from embryos, created for research purposes, which have already been destroyed. But it excludes the creation or cloning of any human embryos for research purposes.

Conservatives have condemned President Bush's decision as "morally unacceptable", saying it can lead to "a disrespect for human life."

Do you think research on stem cells from human embryos should be banned altogether? Or should it go further?

We discussed stem cell research and human cloning in this week's Talking Point phone-in programme broadcast on BBC World Service Radio and on BBC News Online. If you would like to add to the debate, please use the form at the bottom of the page.

  • Read what you have said since the programme
  • Your comments during the programme
  • Your comments before the programme

    This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.

    Your reaction

    Your comments since the programme

    I think President Bush has made the right decision to fund the research. This is quite possibly one of the best things he could have done since becoming president. This type of research can only be good if it can help find cures for Parkinson's disease and Alzheimer's. Although there does need to be certain restrictions on the types of research done with this funding, I think the point is that the research is to be used to extend life and not genetically create or 'clone' it.
    Neil Bradley, Scunthorpe, North Lincolnshire

    Stem cells of a human embryo belong to the embryo. He is the only being that has the full right to all his cells. It leaves no room for any of us to decide. We have adult stem cells as an alternative tool for research.
    Mohammed, Saudi Arabia

    Of course this work should be encouraged and allowed

    Shaun, Teignmouth, UK
    Of course this work should be encouraged and allowed. It is backward thinking to insist that we should not carry out this vital research on moral grounds. We only remain at the head of the food chain because we are prepared to continually keep learning. The advantages that might be gained from this research will better serve mankind than spurning this initiative through misguided morality.
    Shaun, Teignmouth, UK

    It seems to me that the President has split the baby. The real ethical question here is this: Are those collections of cells human life? If they are, then any testing that necessitates their destruction is wrong and should not be funded with taxpayer money. If those cells do not constitute human life, then why limit the research at all? I don't think this announcement cleared anything up.
    Pete Comas, New York, NY

    Bush's decision will not stop the research

    JW, Sydney
    The holy Roman Church once did a similar trick when they declared the world was flat. Bush's decision to bar some research will not stop the research it will only loosen the authority of legislators over the debates to come. The idea that women, who since the dawn of time have been expelling viable foetus eggs in their period blood, should now not be allowed to investigate and research smacks of the Spanish Inquisition, a moral crusade that is more about power than ethics or morality.
    JW, Sydney

    President Bush made a step in the right direction with his decision to let federal money be used for research. While personally I didn't agree with limiting of which stem cells could be used, the ones they wanted to use will simply be trashed anyway. But having the government watch over the research is a good idea. As new discoveries are made, the public can be aware of the advances. Plus with having to answer to the government, the uses can be better controlled. Since this decision has fallen short of what many wanted, I wonder what will happen in other research. Will those who are wealthy band together to further private research? I am sure there are many not so wealthy private citizens who would join them in helping to fund research.
    C.S. White, DeLand, FL, USA

    Though I agree that scientific research and development is key to improving life, I don't feel it should be at the expense of it. In my opinion, an embryo is a life. And that life should have rights like any other. Why can't we conduct this research using placentas, umbilical cords, and other means which do not tamper with nature? Hasn't history proven that Nature is more powerful than man? This decision may have severe consequences.
    Ann Clayton, Atlanta, USA

    It is good but it must be policed

    Azam Khan, Pakistan
    It is good but it must be policed. But I am afraid policing would not be enough, so there must also be some teaching of morality, so that human respect be kept intact.
    Azam Khan, Pakistan

    I think that the whole fuss over stem cells/human cloning is much ado about nothing. Have we seen any concrete results from this research? Is there any clinical application for human cloning other than for fertility treatments? Does anyone believe that anyone who isn't incredibly wealthy is ever going to benefit from these treatments, when and if they ever arrive? We have over 40 million people in this country who have no health coverage at all! When are we going to stop paying attention to these non-issues and start focusing on real problems?
    Sarah E. Heck, Standish, Maine

    I find it rather chilling that adult stem cell research is being so consistently ignored. How many people know that adult stem cells are already used successfully on patients? In contrast, no one knows how to use early embryos to treat anyone at all. Add to that the fact that the embryo dies when his/her cells are extracted, and it becomes extraordinary that we are not investing exclusively in ethical alternatives.
    H.W., London

    Research has proved that stem cells from adults would be as effective

    Matthew, UK
    I think that Bush was wrong to have made the decision he made. There is no need for stem cell research using (and destroying in the process) living human embryos. Research has proved that stem cells from adults would be as effective (and some scientists believe more effective) in research for cures for currently incurable diseases.
    Matthew, St Helens, Lancashire, UK

    This was not a real decision - Bush drew an arbitrary line in the sand saying that the use of cells isolated before August 9th will be funded, but not the use of those isolated after this date. This date has no magical meaning other than the fact that it was the date he chose to make his speech. Why waste embryos that will eventually be destroyed anyway? What exactly do the people who are against this want us to do with all of the extra embryos from in vitro fertilisation? This was merely an attempt to appease constituents on both sides of the issue - he lacked the nerve to make a real decision either way. What a pity that politics will stand in the way of promising medical research.
    Patricia, San Francisco, CA, USA

    George Bush has allowed the religious mumbo jumbo peddlers to slow down human progress. At least he hasn't stopped it completely. It's a small victory, I suppose.
    Ian Lowe, Glasgow, Scotland

    I cannot believe that President Bush is doing this I appreciate what America is like it, is not like England, and I am sure many disabled people will benefit from the research, but cloning is disgusting and very dangerous. It is "morally unacceptable" - the government is completely right. Which makes a change!
    Emily Tucker, Shropshire, England

    George Bush took a position that would give each side some room to work in

    Dave Adams, St. Louis/ USA
    George Bush took a position that would give each side some room to work in. The conservatives are not angry with him. And, they will vote for him again unless he does not do a good job. I think that Bush will do what he has to do to run a good race again in 2004. I don't agree with his ideas but, he is much more clever than people have thought. He knows how to make people 'think' they are getting a good deal while they end up getting short-changed. And, the public is pretty dumb when it comes to knowing what is happening today. George has proven one thing and that is an irrefutable fact. He has got it made!
    Dave Adams, St. Louis/ USA

    Religion has often tried to stand in the way of scientific progress, but fortunately science has managed to prevail. I wish the superstitious would stand aside and let man's ingenuity and genius march on.
    Mike, Enterprise USA

    Ken Follet's "The Third Twin" shows how a geneticist can possibly split an embryo into several equal parts, thus allowing different surrogates to give birth to single "twins".
    As long as it is a money making prospect, human cloning will continue to be perused whether it is legal or not.
    Brian Merritt, Quebec, Canada

    I do not see anything wrong with using human embryos in stem cell research, provided that the egg donor consents to the use of the egg for this purpose.
    Basically, I see nothing wrong with experimenting with this excess in an effort to improve health in the form of finding cures for degenerative diseases.
    I would equate the use of human embryos in stem cell research for therapeutic purposes to the use of human organ transplants. The latter, we all agree, has helped many people to improve the quality of their lives.
    Vincent Benjamin Antigua and Barbuda.

    Your comments during the programme

    I feel that the pharmaceutical industry is forcing the President of the US to make up his mind.
    Rosemary, USA

    I think that people should think that cloning entails the production, rather than the creation, of a child. Each person involved his/herself in order to create a child naturally, but if a person can be reproduced through cloning, that self-surrender is lost, and there is the danger of self-idolisation.
    Bruce David, Oslo Norway

    Watching "Meet the press" on NBC, I understand that we are only talking about Federal funding and not private research. From this, I gather that private research can go on regardless so long as no tax dollars are used. So, those who can afford it may get treatments for their illnesses whilst Joe Public will not. One has to ask if this possibility exists, why not use it?
    Andrew Davis, Miami, USA

    I wonder...When can see actual outcome of cloning or stem cell technology? When we can have health fund that covers them? When will this technology will be affordable? And when will we see the benefits getting into these people in developing countries as well as developed countries?
    Akira Tamura, Adelaide, Australia

    This decision has been made on purely commercial grounds. Unless Bush had allowed research to continue (not to commence, as some mistakenly believe) the companies carrying out the developments of therapies would have relocated overseas, along with the skills, and the US would have lost the race.
    John, Manchester, UK

    As a disabled person I was elated to hear the president had agreed to research, although limited, into stem cell technology. Sadly, a group of people who do not stand to benefit from the technology are holding it back, as per usual due to ethical and moral dilemmas as well as the ever present fear of the abuse of science. This is not to say that people cannot have morals but if these people were to understand the pain that some people go through, to experience it first hand, they may reconsider their stance.
    Alan Pottinger, England

    I think Bush has proved that he can be a compassionate conservative. I am also happy that he has moved from right to the centre. It will go long way in history to find cure for these diseases. It is time to accept the intellect side of Bush.
    Raj, Houston, USA

    In face of mounting evidence, Bush had little choice but to come up with a less controversial compromise. The real surprise was the number embryonic stem cell lines available (60-plus); most experts in the field had expected around a dozen or so. Like any compromise, this decision also leaves all sides less than satisfied. The fact GW used this as the subject for his first national address Thursday, for his weekly radio broadcast and even an op-ed article in the New York Times (Sunday) shows how serious this issue has been to this administration with strong conservative agenda.
    Dr Riz Rahim, USA

    Your comments before we went ON AIR

    If we all listened to the moral and religious raconteurs, the earth would be flat, the mentally ill would be in league with the devil, evolution of species would be impossible, and we would probably still be living in caves thinking that fire was the greatest gift powerful gods of the storms had bestowed upon us. Religion always tries to hold back the advance of knowledge too much. That said, some controls need to be in place, so President Bush may have struck the happiest medium possible in this controversial area of research.
    Kevin, Ashford, Kent, England

    President Bush has got it right. If you don't do this research you are condemming many vulnerable people to an early and unpleasant death. Stopping research would be just another form of playing God, and is itself both wicked and unenforceable.
    Kevin Elliott, Oxford, UK

    I think Bush has taken an important lead in this issue, and a courageous one in view of opposition from some of his own conservative colleagues. Thank goodness he's turned to logic rather than emotive beliefs.
    Ray Marsh, Brisbane, Australia

    Life is a continuous process of growth and development from the moment of conception; it is no more proper to suggest that life begins at birth than it is to suggest that life begins at puberty. The value of a life should never vary based on age, size or ability to function independently. The embryo, and the incoherent Alzheimer's patient are equally worthy of society's care and protection.
    Bill K, Cleveland, Ohio USA

    Why do we travel to other worlds in the frantic search for signs of life, when we destroy it so freely in our own?
    Michael Stuart, Edinburgh

    You will know the moralities only when you are suffering from some cardiac or kidney disease

    Vomc, Singapore
    I strongly support Mr Bush's decision in this regard. I don't understand these conservatives' statement "morally unacceptable". You will know the moralities only when you are suffering from some cardiac or kidney disease. This is going to help mankind.
    Vomc, Singapore

    Advances in adult stem cell research, genetics and other technologies mean that there is no need to use stem cells from human embryos. Bush has unnecessarily supported embryo abuse and risks tarnishing genuine ethical research. There is a greater public interest in delivering ethical cures, rather then presenting the ill with the horrendous dilemma of whether or not to use a treatment that depended on the destruction of another human life.
    Sarah Macken, London, England

    This is ungodly and extremely wicked. This kind of research should be banned otherwise we will all degenerate into an immoral and blasphemous society awaiting God's wrath.
    Lilian Kimeto, Nairobi, Kenya

    Bush has added safeguards that will ensure there will be little chance to abuse the system

    Alastair Jefferson, Bolton, UK
    I think Bush was perfectly correct in allowing this limited stem cell research to go ahead. He has added safeguards that will ensure that there will be little chance to abuse the system. I really don't understand what these protestors are concerned about. They're using cells from aborted foetuses, which are already non-viable. No one is being killed or harmed to get these stem cells, so what's the problem?
    Alastair Jefferson, Bolton, UK

    It is to me the inevitable march of 'progress'. It does not make it morally correct but so often in the past science has pushed forward the moral boundaries. Bush is the front man but the people pulling the strings should be the ones that are answerable.
    David Procter, Port Hawkesbury, Canada

    It does seem a tad predictable for Bush to announce this only AFTER he went to visit the Pope, where his words on stem cell policy were, to say the least, woolly. Of course there is a huge moral question at stake, and whatever decision he takes will be seen as wrong by a majority of people, but his pussy-footing seems to denote, and not for the first time, a lack of vision. However, a little bit of sympathy must go out to him: he is on a hiding to nothing whatever he does - it's not a chest-beating exercise like the plane in China and it's never going to win him any friends.
    Anthony Green, Bari, Italy

    Stem cell research is best for man and beast

    Tony Martin, USA
    Not only is animal testing cruel, it sustains erroneous results for human beings - bad science for medicine. Stem cell research is best for man and beast. President Bush is trying to appease some on the far right, but there is no middle road on this issue for them, he should have gone further, and in time maybe he (or his predecessor) will.
    Tony Martin, San Francisco Bay Area, USA

    I think the society will not be able to block the research in this area much longer, so it is a matter of setting up the proper guidelines which ensure that we won't fall upon something dangerous.
    Vinod Kumar, Cochin, India

    I believe that stem cell research is necessary to the proper advancement of scientific knowledge. Admittedly, as a biologist I have a somewhat biased perspective, but I do not believe that it is right for any prevailing morality to dictate the direction and limitations of research. Politicians must play to the masses to ensure their political survival, but it is the responsibility of scientists to advance knowledge allowing a greater survival, due to increased understanding of biology. Failure to find cures and treatments for terminal diseases leads to condemnation of scientists by politicians and the public, when it is their blinkered morality which prevents advance.
    Jayne, England

    I feel that anybody who is opposed to such research is living in a fantasy world where medical conditions such as Alzheimer's do not exist. For the rest us we have to put up with our friends, family and even ourselves suffering from these terrible problems. How dare anyone stand in the way of medical progress on the grounds on religious or ill-informed moral beliefs. I say to these people "welcome to the 21st century!"
    David Honza Todd , Altrincham, Cheshire.

    For once, Bush has made the right decision

    Gaz Haman, Oxford, UK
    I think the decision by Mr Bush is thinly veiled authorisation for full embryonic cloning. He is collecting quite a set of such see-saw decisions. The potential that we could have another George Bush on the planet frightens me.
    Bob, Oxford, UK

    I think that Bush made an uncharacteristically intelligent decision in allowing stem cell research to continue, albeit restrictive though it is. Whether the turnaround was caused by a self-achieved realisation of the crucial importance of stem cell research to the continuing evolution of such a profoundly important branch of science (and medicine), or whether he bowed to pressure from a scientifically-minded majority of constituents (above or below board!), I think the result bodes well for the acceptance and eventual success of a science that is considered by the informed community to be hugely important. I think that stem cell research, whilst having the potential to uncover vast amounts of critical information, must be slowed down (I refrain from using the word restricted) to ensure that the scientific community can marry (or fuse, whichever your ethical disposition) the passion for knowledge with a respect for life.
    RJ, London

    Stem cell research is a very important area of medical research and has a great potential to produce effective treatment for many terrible diseases. I think Bush's decision to fund the research in a limited capacity was a very politically intelligent move, he has managed to keep the majority of groups involved, both pro and anti stem cell, happy. It is my hope though that he increases the funding. in the long run the benefits will be enormous
    Paul Bates, Huddersfield, UK

    This conflict is the same (millennia) old conflict between science and religion. The division is clear. Science stands to benefit much from this research (even if the research is fruitless), while religion was pushed yet further out of the decision making circle. Bush is extending government support for the research, but he never had the power to ban it. If the research is fruitful, we may discover the fountain of youth. That will create the real social-political dilemmas.
    Pavel Sumazin, Port Jefferson, NY

    Why the insistence on using embryos?

    D.L. Anderson, Kansas City, MO, USA
    I have read that adult stem cells are just as usable, and they can be acquired via liposuction. Also, I've read that afterbirth (placenta) is also a source of stem cells. So why would phoetal stem cells even be an issue? Just collect the placenta from all the births daily in the US, and offer free liposuctioning to every woman in America who feels dissatisfied with her figure (ie, all of us). Pay a $100 bonus to every obese man and woman in the US who volunteers for liposuctioning. The doctors and research scientists will have more stem cells than they know what to do with! Seriously, if it is true that stem cells acquired from elsewhere than embryos are usable, why the insistence on using embryos? What am I missing?
    D.L. Anderson, Kansas City, MO, USA

    For once, Bush has made the right decision. It is infuriating that conservatives who cite moral and religious grounds would probably be the first people to rally against homosexuals, single parents or in extreme cases, religions other than their own. Their views on the sanctity of life only apply when it suits them, and as long as the technology isn't abused and is correctly monitored their scaremongering should not be allowed to even enter into the debate.
    Gaz Haman, Oxford, UK

    "Morally Unacceptable"? This, coming from a country where you can buy a gun before you can have sex??
    Ben, Paris, France (British)

    Pavel Samazin, New York, USA
    "The technology is not stable."
    Tibor Saringer, Budapest, Hungary
    "I really don't see the practical merit of cloning a person."
    Cornelia Kaminski, Fulda, Germany
    "In my opinion, there is no fundamental human righ tot have children."
    Philip Crabill, Dallas, Texas
    "The embryos do exist, so why not use them?"
    Anthony McCartthy, London, UK
    "There is a question over the co-operation of evil."
    Helen Leek, Ipswich, UK
    "It's probably better to use the embryos than waste the potential."
    Sarah Macken, London, UK
    "Too much emphasis is being placed on embryo research and other areas are being neglected."
    David Hulme, Iowa, USA
    "You don't always know where research is going to lead you."
    See also:

    10 Aug 01 | Sci/Tech
    Bush backs stem cell research
    10 Aug 01 | Sci/Tech
    What are stem cells?
    10 Aug 01 | Sci/Tech
    Bush's stem cell decision: Full text
    10 Aug 01 | Business
    Companies cheer Bush stem cell move
    23 Jul 01 | Europe
    Pope warns Bush on stem cells
    12 Jul 01 | Sci/Tech
    Row over made-to-order stem cells
    17 Feb 01 | San Francisco
    Stem cell hope for Parkinson's
    07 Sep 00 | Festival of science
    Stem cell injection for stroke on the way
    19 Jul 00 | Sci/Tech
    Stem cells promise liver repair
    02 May 01 | Sci/Tech
    Stem cells grown from dead bodies
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