The Obama presidency will probably immediately lift the "ban" against using embryonic stem cells, i.e. taking stem cells from human embryos that kill the embryo.
This will get him lots of praise in the press.
What you probably won't read is that this is unnecessary.
Adult stem cells are working fine, are easy to find. Every day, scientists are finding a new source of the various types of stem cells in ordinary tissue. Adult stem cells are cheaper and better, since they "match" the patient. And since you can start with a lot more of them, they are less likely to degenerate into cancerous tumors, (a problem after a cell multiplies a certain number of times)...
A lot of people are under the impression that there are lots of "unwanted" embryos out there just sitting around, so why not use them? But the dirty little secret is that embryonic stem cells have to be "fresh" to use.
And you can't just take a stem cell and voila, instant replacement part. You need to get etically matching stem cells to treat people. Usually this means taking an egg, removing the DNA and making a clone.
And therein lies the problem:
The California initiative for stem cells mandates that only donated
embryos or eggs could be used (not embryos or eggs from paid donors). The result? California companies
doing embryonic stem cell research are complaining about the shortage of "eggs" to make fresh embryos, and petitioning the state to fund money to buy the eggs.
How do you get human eggs? By paying women to take fertility pills to make them ovulate a lot of eggs (a medicine that has side effects) and then doing minor surgery to remove them.
Last time I looked, the "price" for fresh eggs from a Boston college student was 20thousand dollars; as a result, a lot of infertile couples are buying eggs from Eastern Europe.
But since embryonic stem cell eggs don't have to be from white people, this means if Obama changes the law, another black market operation in third world countries will be set up to get eggs from poor women: women whose bodies might be more prone to side effects of the medicine, and in countries where women risk dying of infection from the "minor procedure" to "harvest" the eggs...and such deaths will be easy to ignore.
And then there is the problem of genetic match.
Using one's own stem cells means the DNA matches. Using an embryo means trying to match the DNA (and if not perfect, using anti rejection medicines similar to ordinary transplants). The dirty little secret is that to work, embryonic stem cells would have to be turned into clones of the person needing the organ or tissue: And cloning is difficult (and not a perfect match, since mitochondrial DNA doesn't match).
But what about using all those frozen "left over" embryos?
One problem: They are too old to be useful...many never "revive" when defrosted.
And then what about the parents?
A study from Duke Medical Center
shows that parents of left over embryos have moral qualms about these children.
Few want more children, but many (20%) would prefer to keep the frozen embryos in storage. The news that most (over 50%) oppose allowing infertile couples to "adopt" these children is also not surprising, given the societal taboos against "abandoning" one's children to strangers. But "the majority" say they would allow the left over embryos to be used for research.
An earlier study in Science magazine suggested that 60% of the parents would like to donate the embryos for research.
This shows a profound moral confusion on the part of the parents: I suspect they would donate the embryos since the alternative (destruction) is distasteful, and since suspended animation probably kills the embryo anyway, why not let it be used for a good cause?
On the other hand, few parents have actually signed papers to allow their embryos to be used, which suggests that there is a gap between what the tell polltakers and reality.
The press spin about this of course is that evil anti science President Bush won't fund such research, so that option "is not open" to such parents.
But of course this is not true: private companies can legally use such cells...they just want fresh embryos, or better still, fresh eggs that they can make fresh embryos from.
A survey by Business Wire
showed widespread confusion on the issue, where most people thought that adult stem cells didn't work, and that "stem cells" were all from embryos.
But the truth is that adult stem cells work, and have been used for years to treat various diseases; more recently, scientists have found out how to insert genes into stem cells, meaning that children with genetic disease such as sickle cell disease might have an alternative treatment to suffering with the disease or a risky bone marrow transplant.
And the big news, that scientists have managed to make adult stem cells act like embryonic stem cells and turn into various tissues, makes the expensive embryonic destructive stem cells unneeded.
Of course, scientists would still like to use embryos for basic research, (the UK recently approved of research to make animal/human embryos).
So why not do the research first on animals?
Ah, but if a scientist tries to do the basic research on apes, he or she may find his car or house firebombed by animal rights activists.
Ironic, isn't it? California frowns on ape research, but it's fine to experiment on one's unborn offspring.