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Medical journal to advocate for embryonic stem cell research

WASHINGTON (BP)–A leading medical journal has announced it will put its weight behind the effort to keep embryonic stem cell research legal in the United States.

In an editorial in its July 17 issue, the New England Journal of Medicine not only said it believes such experimentation should continue but its editors will search for worthy manuscripts that report on research using stem cells taken from embryos. They will publish papers explaining treatments that derive from the research, the editorial said.

Such research is highly controversial, because procuring stem cells from embryos results in the destruction of the tiny human beings. Pro-life organizations oppose the research on that basis.

Stem cells are primitive cells from which cells and tissues in the human body develop. Their discovery in 1998 has provided hope for treating a variety of conditions, including Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, heart disease and diabetes. Scientists largely have promoted research on embryonic stem cells. Adult stem cells, which can be obtained without destroying human life, also have shown promise in providing cures but, according to many reports, do not have the flexibility of embryonic cells.

Jeffrey Drazen, editor in chief of the journal, wrote in the editorial he believes embryonic stem cell research “must continue in the United States if we are to provide the best possible care for our patients. … I hope that this research can progress rapidly.”

He criticized a bill passed by the U.S. House of Representatives in February that bars cloning, also known as somatic cell nuclear transfer, not only for the purpose of reproducing a child but with the intention of creating an embryo on which to perform research.

Cloning for research purposes should be regulated but not prohibited, Drazen wrote.

“No matter what Congress decides, such treatments will be developed somewhere in the world,” Drazen wrote. “Physicians and scientists in the United States should be at the center of the action, not on the sidelines. We want to be sure that legislative myopia does not blur scientific insight.”

In the same issue, the journal published three articles supportive of embryonic stem cell research.

Pro-life medical specialists decried the journal’s position.

“So much for so-called scientific objectivity,” said Ben Mitchell, a bioethics consultant for the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. “The New England Journal of Medicine should be publishing articles that demonstrate the best medical and scientific research. Instead, they are hitching their wagon to a political ideology.

“It’s unfortunate that a journal with the legacy of the New England Journal of Medicine is being turned into a political tool to push a partisan agenda,” said Mitchell, associate professor of bioethics at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in suburban Chicago. “Physicians will have to look for alternative sources for medical and scientific information.”

Gene Rudd, associate director of the Christian Medical and Dental Association, told LifeNews, “Twentieth-century history should remind us of the horrors of destructive experimentation on human life. Even with meritorious motives, society should never again cross the line of choosing to kill one life for the benefit of another.”

A comprehensive cloning ban like the House-approved one has not progressed in the Senate. The version sponsored by Sen. Sam Brownback, R.-Kan., has 28 cosponsors but also faces strong opposition. A bill sponsored by Sen. Orrin Hatch, R.-Utah, prohibits cloning only to produce a child. It permits cloning for research, as long as the embryo is destroyed in the first 14 days.

President Bush supports a total ban on cloning.

In 2001, the president ordered a ban on federal funds for stem cell research that would result in the destruction of embryos. Bush decided to allow, however, funding for research on the more than 60 lines, or colonies, of existing stem cells in which, as he put it, “the life-and-death decision has already been made.”

In June, the American Medical Association endorsed cloning for research purposes.

The Southern Baptist Convention passed without opposition in 2001 a resolution condemning both research and reproductive cloning.

Mitchell said Internet sites such as www.stemcellresearch.org “will play an increasingly important role in the future” for counterbalancing the New England Journal of Medicine’s advocacy for embryonic stem cell research.