Does Stem Cell Research Ban Threaten Efforts to Help Children?

Filed under: Health & Safety: Babies, In The News, Health & Safety: Toddlers & Preschoolers, Health & Safety: Tweens, Health & Safety: Teens, Health

stem cell research

On March 9, 2009, President Barack Obama signed an order reversing the Bush administration's limits on human embryonic stem cell research. Credit: Darren Hauck, Getty Images


A research project at the University of Maryland and Johns Hopkins University fights childhood leukemia.


At least it did.

The project could be suspended now that a federal court has banned the use of federal funds for embryonic stefm cell research.

"We have the tool in our hands, and it seems to us, we fear, that this will be turned off," Dr. Curt Civin, an associate dean at the University of Maryland who has been fighting cancer in children for 35 years, tells CBS News.

Dr. Leonard Zon of the Children's Hospital in Boston shares Civin's dread. The ban -- even if temporary -- could have a major and lasting ripple effect on efforts to treat and cure diseases in children, he tells the network.

"To stop this work just seems crazy at this moment, and we're certainly hoping that this ruling can be challenged in some way," Zon, who stands to lose a $1 million project to study Down syndrome, tells CBS.

A federal court in Washington ruled Aug. 23 that a federal budget law, passed in 1996, explicitly states: "No federal funds shall be used for research in which a human embryo or embryos are destroyed" (which happens anytime embryonic stem cells are taken).

Many social conservatives, believing that life begins at conception, object to stem cell research, asserting that fertilized embryos have human rights. Scientists and others argue the embryos in question will never develop past their current stage. They have only two possible destinies: being discarded or being used to help others.

Obama administration officials said Aug. 24 that they will appeal the court ruling.

Meanwhile, some medical researchers involved in stem cell research are confused. They tell CBS News they are uncertain if research can continue in projects where the embryo has already been destroyed.

CBS reports the National Institutes of Health immediately put 62 pending stem cell projects on hold and warned that more than 200 existing stem cell experiments could continue for now but may not be renewed.

"That's unacceptable to people with diseases and people who have diseases in their family, which, let's face it, is everyone," Amy Comstock Rick, chief executive of Parkinson's Action Network, tells CBS News.

Yet, the Rev. Kevin Fitzgerald, a research professor at Georgetown University, tells CBS the debate over what constitutes human life is no trifling matter. And it's a debate worth having, he says.

"The debate we're having right now is do human embryos count as human beings?" he says.

Related: First Stem Cell Research Curriculum Developed for High School Students

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.