President Bush's recent decision to allow federal funding of limited research using embryonic stem cells followed weeks of heated debate among scientists, policymakers, medical experts, and patient advocates. At the heart of the controversy are the complicated moral and legal issues surrounding the source of these stem cells, since those that are most valuable to scientists can only be obtained from human embryos. Yet stem cells may offer unprecedented opportunities for developing new therapies for many of the most debilitating medical conditions--including Parkinson's and Alzheimer's diseases, spinal cord injuries, stroke, heart disease, and diabetes.

The ethical and legal concerns regarding the use of cells from human embryos cannot be ignored. However, so much attention has been paid to these issues that an understanding of the state of the science behind stem cell research has often been overlooked. This is especially troubling given that the policy decisions that are made now...

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