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Stem Cell Research Subject of Ninth Senate Hearing

On August 1, the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education held its ninth hearing on human embryonic stem cell research. The primary purpose of this hearing was to discuss patent and intellectual property issues as they relate to stem cell research.

Committee Chair Tom Harkin (D-IA) was unable to attend the hearing due to the Senate floor schedule. Rather, Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA) presided over the hearing. Reiterating his ardent support for embryonic stem cell research, Sen. Specter said, “In my judgment, there is no issue before the Congress more important than embryonic stem cells and the potential to cure or ameliorate diseases for millions of people.”

Several witnesses spoke about the ethics of embryonic stem cell research. “We believe that in weighing the needs of children and adults who are paralyzed, demented or dying the needs of those…actual persons [have] greater moral standing than the potentiality inherent in embryos or clones,” stated Arthur Caplan, Ph.D. and Glen McGee, Ph.D. of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania.

Nigel M. de S. Cameron, Ph.D. of the Centre for Bioethics and Public Policy in London disagreed: “This debate has sometimes degenerated into an iteration and reiteration of the potential benefits of this kind of experimentation, as if those who oppose public funding for what they consider unethical research are either ignorant of or heedless toward disease and its sufferers.” He continued, “The celebrity argument is a sham, an attempt to short-circuit the moral assessment of means by the crass assertion of ends.”

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