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No one has ever called the stem cell debate rational or straightforward. But when it comes to understanding how the government tries to control privately funded initiatives-even in seemingly unrelated areas like civil legal aid for the poor, the stem cell debate can be brilliantly illuminating.
In 2001, President George W. Bush warned that "a fundamental moral line" prevented the federal government from endorsing or funding stem cell research that would result in "further destruction of human embryos." Based on the president's directive, and on federal policy in place since 1994, scientists working on stem cell research had been compelled to establish two separate laboratories: one for their publicly funded stem cell research, the other for the privately funded stem cell research prohibited by the federal government.
Such duplication is incredibly expensive. Who can afford two sets of laboratory equipment? What scientist wants to squander precious time moving back and forth between labs? What edge in conquering disease is lost when scientists operate in relative isolation from each other, without the benefit of views routinely shared by colleagues occupying the same office space? How many talented scientists avoid the entire field of stem cell research because of these bureaucratic hurdles?