Stem Cell Research: An NPR Special Report
Joe Palca reports on the patents and other restrictions that could stand in the way of research on the 60 existing stem cell lines approved by Bush.
Listen to President Bush's announcement that he will support funding for limited stem cell research.
Culture trays containing human embryonic stems cells being stored in heat-controlled storage and studied by developmental biologist James Thomson's research lab at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Photo: Jeff Miller
A volatile mixture of science and politics has complicated Mr. Bush's decision to support federal funding for limited embryonic stem cell research.
Mr. Bush said he supports funding for research on existing lines of embryonic stem cells -- those generated from stem cells extracted years ago from embryos discarded during in vitro fertilization procedures. But the president also supports funding for research on stem cells taken from sources other than human embryos, such as those extracted from adults, animals, and discarded umbilical cords and placentas.
The pressure surrounding the decision has been intense: The National Institutes of Health, Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson, and a growing number of Republican lawmakers all urged the president to pay for research. But others inside the White House opposed the funding saying research on cells derived from human embryos is unethical and should be banned.
The debate pits some Christians and some conservatives against scientists and those representing people with debilitating diseases. Human embryonic stem cells are derived from an embryo that is from zero to four days old. Opponents of embryonic stem cell research believe life begins at conception and say that destroying an embryo to conduct research destroys a human life and is unethical.
Supporters of embryonic stem cell research focus on the cells' unique ability to become any of the other types of cells in the body. They argue this research must be permitted to seek treatments for a variety of debilitating and possibly life-threatening diseases such as Parkinson's disease, Juvenile Diabetes and spinal chord injuries.
Hear recent coverage of the issue from NPR's archives.
Learn about the science behind stem cell research and read the NIH stem cell primer.
Exclusively on NPR.org, read a "virtual roundtable" of scientists, ethicists and advocates explaining their stands on stem cell research.
Check out our online resource list to learn more about the scientific and ethical debates, and the organizations involved.