What role for the states in stem cell research?
When scientists wanted to discuss the safety of recombinant DNA technologies in the mid-1970s, they convened the Asilomar Conference, where they agreed on guidelines that would minimize risk while allowing the research to blossom, said Stanford biochemist Paul Berg, Ph.D. The first researcher to combine DNA from two different species, Berg shared the 1980 Nobel Prize in chemistry.
Berg doubts that a conference could resolve the current dispute about human embryonic stem cell research, because it centers not on science but on politics, ideology and moral beliefs. The Bush administration limits federal funding for research to a handful of embryonic stem cell lines, and Congress may even criminalize some therapeutic stem cell research. The pending legislation, said Berg in a September talk sponsored by the Bioethics and Public Policy Seminar Series, would deny 290 million American people access to potential therapies.
Berg supports efforts such as the recent ballot initiative approved by voters in November in California, which opened the way for state funding of stem cell research. “There is a role for the state to act for the welfare of its citizens,” he said.