Stem cells are one thing

But we also need to know more about the embryos they come from.

By Lynn Harris

Published June 6, 2007 5:37PM (EDT)

We tend to think of stem cell research in terms of its potential to help prevent adult disease. According to Liza Mundy in yesterday's Washington Post, its cousin, embryo research, is also "important to the health of mothers and infants." And, actually, to the health of embryos themselves.

Here's the problem. Doctors performing in-vitro fertilization, Mundy writes, "have no reliable way of telling which embryo [created outside the womb] has the crucial ability to develop into a fetus." Result No. 1: To improve the odds of pregnancy, they routinely implant more than one embryo. Result No. 2: More than half of IVF babies are twins, triplets or more -- they're therefore major players in the "stunning escalation" of multiple births nationwide. So what? Multiples, Mundy points out, are more likely to come with complications risky to both babies and mother.

That's why we need to expand the conversation from stem cells to embryo research, says Mundy. Sooner or later, she thinks -- even though Bush is poised to veto another bill authorizing funding for stem cell research, which one wishes he had to do while looking someone with Alzheimer's or a spinal cord injury in the eye -- the stem cell stuff will get a green light. But we do need to revisit a broader ban -- officially in effect since 1996, actually -- on federal funding for any research involving the creation or destruction of embryos. As it stands, scientists who receive federal funding -- "and most good scientists do," writes Mundy -- can't use any of it to try to figure out what makes IVF embryos tick, which is just loony considering that "children are born every day whose health and well-being are permanently affected by the funding ban." She notes that England's pretty reasonable about this, allowing research on IVF embryos for 14 days after their creation. "Embryos do deserve special moral status," she writes. "But so does the other group that lacks a voice in this debate: children who owe their lives -- and perhaps their afflictions -- to the science that made them."

OK, I totally just gave away Mundy's blam-pow! ending. But -- like most everything she writes, in my humble O -- the whole editorial is worth a read, and some serious thought.

Lynn Harris

Award-winning journalist Lynn Harris is author of the comic novel "Death by Chick Lit" and co-creator of She also writes for the New York Times, Glamour, and many others.

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