By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
Stem-Cell Research 101
Tempest in a Test Tube
While President Bush mulls federal funding for stem-cell research, Congress prepares to move. At least 200 members of the House, including the Republican speaker Dennis Hastert, are set to support using tax dollars for the study of tissue from embryos, said to hold promise for the treatment of ailments like Parkinson's disease and spinal-cord injuries. Bush's shilly-shallying makes him look silly, relegating the White House to the sidelines on one of the most important questions since he took office.
There was no more embarrassing scene than that of Bush playing the attentive, overstarched schoolboy last month while the doddering Pope lectured against the research. We offer another primer.
Stem Cells:Highly mutable cells obtained from aborted fetuses or days-old embryos.
Political Stakes:Bush's right-wing support, now all the more important because GOP moderates are jumping ship to support the research.
Current Rules:Only embryos set to be trashed by fertility and abortion clinics can be used. The cells must be derived by privately funded scientists, who can then pass them on to federally funded colleagues.
Key Question:When does life begin?
Pro:Actor and quadriplegic Christopher Reeve. "You don't really have an ethical problem because you are actually saving lives by using cells that are going to the garbage," Reeve told CNN. "I just don't see how that's immoral or unethical. I really don't."
Con:Hardcore pro-lifers. The Pope warned of "a tragic coarsening of consciences" that starts with abortion and goes on to an "acquiescence in . . . related evils such as euthanasia, infanticide, and, most recently, proposals for the creation for research purposes of human embryos, destined to destruction in the process. . . . A free and virtuous society, which America aspires to be, must reject practices that devalue and violate human life at any stage from conception until natural death."
In the Middle:George W. Bush, who told the nation: "It's the need to balance value and respect for life with the promise of science and the hope of saving life."
Who Owns the Science:Johns Hopkins holds patents on advanced techniques for researching fetal germ cells; likewise the University of Wisconsin Research Foundation, an affiliate of the University of Wisconsin, holds patents on techniques with embryonic stem cells. The Geron Corporation, of Menlo Park, California, has licenses from both Hopkins and WARF. Two Hopkins medical school doctorsJohn D. Gearhart and Michael Joseph Shamblottown an undisclosed amount of stock in Geron.
Profit Margins:Frost and Sullivan, a major consulting firm, reports "the worldwide market for cell lines and tissue cultures brought in nearly $428 million in corporate revenues in 1996." It further predicts that between now and 2003, the market will grow at an average annual rate of 13.5 percent. By next year, it will be worth nearly $1 billion. Profits from patents and products that come from tissue research are not included.
Stem-Cell Czar:The National Institutes of Health, the agency that sponsors $19 million in fetal-cell research and oversees current rules.
If Not Here, Where?If the U.S. doesn't perform the research, other countries will take over. Australia currently works on stem cells from Singapore. Great Britain is gung ho. France, Germany, Japan, and Canada remain undecided.
Harvesting the Cells: Federal law prohibits the sale of fetal tissue, but clinics can charge reasonable fees for gathering and ferrying it to researchers. The Kansas City Star reports that one donation company, Anatomic Gift Foundation, phased out its fetal-tissue program last year to quell bad publicity from anti-abortion groups. "It's put an enormous damper on research," the company's attorney told the paper.
Chandra Levy Case Goes Cold
Conspiracy of Dunces
Washington police pretty much gave up on the Chandra Levy case over the weekend. In announcing that the search would be scaled back, Chief Charles Ramsey said solving the riddle of the former intern's disappearance is at best a 50-50 proposition. The matter of Levy's disappearance has never been declared a criminal investigation, and the cops have consistently squelched speculation about California congressman Gary Condit, who admitted having an affair with the missing woman and has been interviewed repeatedly by law enforcement.
Meanwhile, the case has begun to achieve mythic status among conspiracy buffs, who among other kooky things believe that: