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Speaking out on stem cells.

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In April several directors of the National Institutes of Health broke their silence about the Bush administration's nearly four-year-old limits on federally funded human embryonic stem cell research. The director of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute told Congress: "Progress has been delayed by the limited number of cell lines. The NIH has ceded leadership in this field." Nora D. Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, complained that access to the few approved lines of stem cells is "complicated and expensive." James F. Battey, director of the Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, pointed out that new stem cell lines that enable researchers to study a wide variety of genetic diseases are ineligible for federal funding.

Why did they wait so long before speaking up? Evidently because their politically appointed masters at the Department of Health and Human Services had kept them muzzled. Their candid opinions came in response to a letter from Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), who instructed, "Your response should be submitted directly to the Subcommittee without editing, revision, or comment by the Department of Health & Human Services."

The Washington Post noted that even President Bush's handpicked NIH director, Elias Zerhouni, may not be on board with administration's stem cell policy. During the congressional hearing, Specter asked Zerhouni to clarify the moral objection to research on stem cells derived from embryos left over from fertility treatments, which are destined to be destroyed anyway. "I think you'll have to ask that from those who hold that view," Zerhouni replied.

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