Home   Archive

Stem cell research
Jack Balshaw 8/14/01

There's a lot more than meets the eye on this topic. First and foremost, the Presidents position relates only to stem cell research using federal funds. There is no policy, no restraint and no oversight on privately funded research. The private sector can do all the research it wants as long as it spends its own money to do it.

But why spend their own money when they can spend federal, taxpayer, money and still be allowed to patent the results in their name? That's what researchers can do now. The government pays for their research but they're allowed to patent and keep ownership of any profitable results from the research. It would be nice if the federal government could be an equal partner in sharing any profit. Whether the money was returned to the treasury or reinvested in more research, the public would continue to benefit.

Under the policy the President just announced, private companies will wait until the federally funded researcher discovers how to manipulate the stem cells to develop a specific end product. Then they will begin their own research using whatever stem cells they can acquire. They won't be limited to using cells only from the approved "lines", as designated in the President's decision.

This will result in a two step process in developing useful products from stem cells. Preliminary research will be federally funded and restricted, research for profit will be privately funded and unrestricted.

Along another track, we in the U.S. have to realize that just because we don't do something doesn't mean it won't get done. There are a half dozen countries in the world where stem cell research is currently underway. Scientists in these countries aren't limited to working on approved "lines". This means their research can be much broader than in the U.S. No matter what our policy and political positions are, these countries will continue their research.

An unfortunate result of this will be that our scientists won't be able (allowed) to build on any progress made in treating specific organic diseases and malfunctions unless the relevant research was done on one of the sixty approved "lines". Even then, they may not be able to work on all of those if the private owners of the "lines" won't sell them stem cells to work with.

This leads right into the discussion of private profit versus public good. By his policy decision the President created tremendous value for the sixty approved existing stem cell "lines". If your company owns one of these "lines", you can set your price. Either conditions can be attached to the sale to guarantee the owner of the cells any percentage profit from discoveries he demands or individual stem cells can be sold for what the traffic will bear. We've seen how this works with gas, electricity and pharmaceuticals.

I know it's only four days since the decision, but I find it strange that the press hasn't identified any of the companies controlling approved "lines". What will happen to that companies stock price when they're identified? Who will be making the windfall profit?

I heard the tongue in cheek argument that while the Administration won't fund any research using existing excess embryos because of its position on the sanctity of life, it will OK use of stem cell "lines" that have been developed from embryos previously destroyed (killed?) to create a "line". If those who destroy an embryo to harvest the stem cells are destroyers of "life", the President is rewarding those who were quick enough to do it before his speech.

During the 2000 campaign a tax rebate was warranted because the economy was so strong In 2001 a tax rebate was warranted because the economy was so weak. An excuse can be found to do anything you want to do if inconsistency doesn't embarrass you.


Home   Archive