Public Release: 

AAAS letter to President Bush

American Association for the Advancement of Science

A related press release is available at http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2001-07/aaft-aup072001.php.

March 6, 2001

The Honorable George W. Bush
President of the United States
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Ave., NW
Washington, DC 20500-0004

Dear Mr. President:

On behalf of the Board of Directors of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the largest multidisciplinary scientific society in the world, we write to express our strong support for federal funding of research using human pluripotent stem cells. The discovery of such cells, capable of giving rise to virtually any tissue type, may be the most important scientific and medical breakthrough in the past decade or more. Research on these cells could result in treatments or cures for the millions of Americans suffering from many of humanity's most devastating illnesses, including Alzheimer's disease, diabetes, spinal cord injury, and heart disease. AAAS is committed to working with you and others in the government to support research that holds the promise of new treatments and cures for disease and disability as well as increasing our understanding of the basic biology of human development. Such basic research will improve our understanding of birth defects and contribute to the development of new drugs targeted at specific diseases.

In November 1999, AAAS issued a report on stem cell research based on many months of study and the advice of a highly diverse and experienced advisory group that included ethicists and theologians as well as scientists. We are pleased to enclose a copy of the report. Among the report's key Findings and Recommendations are that "Public and private research on human stems cells derived from all sources (embryonic, fetal, and adult) should be conducted..." and that "Federal funding for stem cell research is necessary in order to promote investment in this promising line of research, to encourage sound public policy, and to foster public confidence in the conduct of such research."

The report concludes that it is possible to conduct embryonic stem cell research in a fully ethical manner. At the same time, however, it acknowledges that reasonable people differ over the type of research that should be funded by public monies because of genuine ethical concerns, and that it is critical to promote public dialogue among all segments of society on the implications of stem cell research.

One of the misconceptions held by some is that study of adult stem cells will be sufficient to realize the medical promise of this line of research. But the prevailing view of expert scientific opinion is that it is far too early to know if adult stem cells have the same potential as embryonic stem cells. It is important to convey to the public the limitations and preliminary nature of much of the research on adult stem cells. It is likely to take years to discover whether adult stem cells will be effective in treating many diseases that may be treatable sooner with embryonic or fetal stem cells. We believe it would not be compassionate public policy to prohibit or hinder research in any of these areas. Our report makes clear the importance of establishing ethical guidelines that respect public sensitivities to this issue and offers several recommendations for balancing the promises of human stem cell research with the public's concerns. In fact, a major reason for public funding is to ensure that such research, now done exclusively in the private sector with virtually no public oversight, is transparent and monitored in a manner that safeguards the public's interest in ensuring the highest ethical standards in conducting stem cell research. It is also important to recognize that embryos are discarded every day in private clinics throughout the country. Under these circumstances, it would be tragic to squander this opportunity to pursue work that can potentially help millions of Americans in need.

We understand that you have asked Secretary Thompson and the Department of Health and Human Services to undertake a review of government policy regarding stem cell research. We support such a review, and would welcome the opportunity to assist the Secretary in securing the most up-to-date scientific data and best expert opinion on the state of the science and its likely development in the years ahead. It is critical that policy be crafted to provide hope to the many sufferers of disease and disability as well as their families. Moreover, any policy that is developed should be in proportion to the seriousness of the concerns raised so that it does not create unwarranted barriers to realizing potential benefits. Thank you for your careful and thoughtful consideration of this matter.

Sincerely,

Mary L. Good
Chair, AAAS Board of Directors
Principal, Venture Capital Investors, LLC

Peter H. Raven
President, AAAS
Director, Missouri Botanical Gardens

Floyd E. Bloom
President-Elect, AAAS
The Scripps Research Institute

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The AAAS Stem Cell Report can be located at http://www.aaas.org/spp/dspp/sfrl/projects/stem/main.htm.

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