Friday, June 22, 2001

Don’t ban scientific
research with stem cells

The issue: The Bush administration
declares its opposition to medical
research using cells from embryos
created from a patient's tissue

CLONING sheep in Scotland and mice at the University of Hawaii have received accolades as achievements in genetic research. As further research involving human and cloned cells holds promise for medical cures, ethical issues abound. President Bush has indicated his preference for a far-reaching ban on such research, a path that could be politically safe among his most conservative supporters but is scientifically and medically obstructive.

Two separate but related issues have surfaced from scientific breakthroughs that offer potential benefits for treatment of ailments such as diabetes, Parkinson's disease, heart disease and multiple sclerosis. Both involve the use of stem cells, specialized embryonic cells that can be maintained indefinitely in tissue culture but have no potential of developing into a complete organism.

One area of research utilizes stem cells derived from human embryos. The embryos typically are obtained from fertility clinics, whose patients often create more embryos than needed. While some conservative religious organizations oppose that research on moral grounds, others recognize that its relationship to the abortion issue is far-fetched. Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, R-Utah, an abortion foe and also a champion of diabetes patients, says such research is "consistent with bedrock pro-life, pro-family values."

The other controversial area of research, developed recently by Rockefeller University biologists, deals with creation of cloned embryos from cells of the ordinary skin tissue of patients. Stem cells from those cloned embryos are believed to be more effective than cells taken from human embryos because they are perfectly compatible with the patient whose skin cells were used to create them.

President Bush has declared his support for a bill that would outlaw the creation of cloned embryos for use in research, even though they could not mature into babies unless transferred to a woman's womb. Claude A. Allen, the deputy secretary of health and human services, expressed concern to a congressional subcommittee that it would be "too easy" for scientists to take such a step. However, making the transfer of a cloned embryo into a woman's womb illegal would be more sensible that banning an entire area of scientific research and medical treatment.

Questions about how far research should be allowed to go in the use of both embryonic stem cells and cells from cloned embryos are understandable. In restricting such research, however, Congress should not lose sight of an inquiry's purpose.

"I do not believe that the Congress should prohibit life-saving research on genetic cell replication because it accords a cell -- a special cell, but only a cell -- the same rights and protections as a person," said Rep. Henry A. Waxman, D-Calif.

Fuel-efficient cars
aren’t an impossible dream

The issue: A report from a scientific
panel contends that automakers have
the technical knowledge to make
cars that use less fuel

A contention by a group of scientists that the nation's automakers could produce vehicles with far more fuel efficiency by using existing technology should spur Congress and the Bush administration to increase fuel economy standards that have not been adjusted since 1975.

With a new poll showing that many Americans favor conservation over increased fossil fuel production, policymakers should push the auto industry to get gasoline-saving cars on the road. Heavy dependence on foreign oil underscores Hawaii's stake in this endeavor.

The report by the Union of Concerned Scientists -- an organization of citizens and scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cornell, Columbia, Harvard and Yale, among others -- asserts that the auto industry already has the know-how to make cars that will average 40 miles per gallon, compared to the present standard of 27.5 miles per gallon. It should be able get them in production by 2012, and by 2020 make vehicles that average 55 miles per gallon, the report says.

Safety, vehicle size and performance would not be sacrificed in reaching these standards. Aerodynamics, better tires, speed controls and devices that reduce gasoline usage during idling are among the existing methods the industry could use to increase mileage. Cars would cost more, an average of $1,693 per vehicle, the report said, but fewer fill-ups would cover the difference.

Americans evidently want more fuel efficiency. A New York Times-CBS News poll showed that 68 percent of respondents favor fossil-fuel conservation over increased production. It also showed that people place environmental protections over higher electricity and gasoline prices.

Meanwhile, sales of hybrid cars that combine an electric motor with a gasoline engine to produce better mileage and less pollution are increasing nationwide. Both Honda and Toyota models are selling at record levels with demand in Hawaii exceeding supply.

Although automakers are searching for vehicles that use clean, alternate energies, such as fuel-cells that produce electricity by combining hydrogen and oxygen, they appear resistant to adjusting to consumers' new concerns.

In reaction to the report, Gregory Dana, vice president of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, retorted, "Let them build it if they can. It's nice to sit in ivory towers and tell us how to build cars. We have to live in the real world."

The "real world," however, is demanding a more fuel-efficient product. If the industry has the technical ability to make it, it should, and soon.

Published by Oahu Publications Inc., a subsidiary of Black Press.

Don Kendall, President

John Flanagan, publisher and editor in chief 529-4748;
Frank Bridgewater, managing editor 529-4791;
Michael Rovner,
assistant managing editor 529-4768;
Lucy Young-Oda, assistant managing editor 529-4762;

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