Embryonic stem cell research raises issues that are fundamentally different from those affecting other areas of medical research. For the first time in history, we are faced with research that may profoundly affect the course of human life and disease by allowing us to more deeply understand and manipulate the basic building blocks of life itself. Although this research may produce powerful cures, it also holds great potential for unintended and even adverse outcomes.

Similar moral and ethical issues have challenged other areas of research, but the dilemmas posed by embryonic stem cell research are among the most challenging. It is an issue that cannot be left only to scientists, or ethicists, or patients, or religious leaders, as it is one that compels us to balance moral, ethical, scientific, and religious considerations. It is, therefore, vitally important that we are aware of the depth of the scientific, ethical, and moral issues involved.

In recent years, Congress has demonstrated a strong, bipartisan commitment to furthering biomedical research. But the unanimity surrounding medical research funding has been challenged by the issue of embryonic stem cell research-an issue that firmly confronts the ethical construct of biomedical research with the concepts of life and death, health and healing. In this piece, I provide an overview of the political and scientific history of the embryonic stem cell issue, evaluate the current political landscape, and discuss the future of this research.