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Stem-cell debate raises "limited research dollars" question

A major bioethics conference at Catholic University of America in Washington has posed the question of whether wealthy nations should be spending large sums of money on research into diseases of the elderly at the expense of diseases such as malaria and tuberculosis, which are causing "a high rate of premature death" in developing countries.

"There are many competing demands for limited research dollars," asked Rebecca Dresser (pictured), professor of law and professor of ethics in medicine at Washington University in St Louis. "What value should be assigned to regenerative medicine?

Dresser, who also serves on the 18-member President's Council on Bioethics, spoke at this week's conference on the stem-cell debate in the United States and Germany. Other speakers included Salesian Fr Norman Ford of Melbourne's Caroline Chisholm Centre for Bioethics.

Although many of the talks at the conference focused on how stem-cell research affects the embryo, Dresser said stem-cell research "raises complex moral issues apart from the status of the human embryo."

When development of the first line of human embryonic stem cells was announced by the University of Wisconsin in 1997, she said, "the public was happy to believe the claims of irresponsible scientists" that therapeutic uses for them "were right around the corner."

She described stem-cell research as "a new tool for basic research, not a sure cure for devastating illnesses."

"In a few years, a more realistic picture will emerge" about the potential of stem cells, she said. "But then some other line will emerge as the new miracle cure."

Stem-cell debate said to neglect some important moral issues (Catholic News Service 6/10/04)

Rebecca Susan Dresser (Faculty Biography, Washington University in St Louis)
Ethicist stresses moral inviolability of embryonic stem cells (CathNews 5/10/04)
Highlights from the talk given by Dr Norman Ford SDB at the Stem Cell Debate in Washington at the Catholic University of America on 4 October 2004
Ethics, Public Policy and Law - The Stem Cell Debate: The Federal Republic of Germany and the United States of America (Catholic University of America, Columbus School of Law)
Caroline Chisholm Centre for Health Ethics
Practical Problems with Embryonic Stem Cells (US Conference of Catholic Bishops)

8 Oct 2004