Since the successful isolation and culturing of human embryonic stem cells in 1998, stem cell research has been limelight globally. Prior to the 1998 scientific breakthrough in culturing human embryonic cells, most embryonic stem cell research initiatives were funded privately, as most of them involved the harvesting and the use of animal’s embryonic cells and adult stem cells only for research. However, with the discovery that human embryonic cells were not cancerous and they could differentiate to form other body tissues for purposes of healing numerous health complications, for example, cancer, the need for the federal government to support the initiative rose.
As a result of the numerous federal restrictions about the use of human embryonic stem cells for research purposes, funding and supporting the research initiative was a problem, because the only source of this type of cells was the human embryos, which had to be destroyed after the researches. Later on, with the discovery of better methods of culturing this cells; which included obtaining these cells from aborted fetuses, the question on the ethicalness of this research initiative rose; hence, marking the onset of the debate on stem cell research. Since then, different government have enacted different legislation to govern stem cell research, most of which target to restrict governmental funding on any stem cell research initiative.
In the U.S., creation of laws to govern stem cell research began during President Clinton’s era in 2000, and has continued throughout the succeeding governments (Bush and Obama’s), although their government’s approaches to the issue are different. This like a scenario is also common in other countries, as some global communities fund stem cell researches, while others do not or limit the number of stem cell research projects they fund. Therefore, although the use of embryonic stem cells for medical purposes represent a major advancement in human biology, the ever-changing legislations enacted by different governments have affected negatively stem cell research initiatives (National Institute of Health: NIH, 2009, p. 1).
Stem Cell Legislation
The primary controversy surrounding stem cell research initiatives rotates around the use of human embryonic cells for research purposes. Medical researchers can obtain embryonic stem cells from leftovers of in vitro fertilization (IVF) or from embryos got via elective abortions and cloning or somatic cell nuclear transfer. Due to the different views that different governments have had since the 1998 scientific breakthrough, different governments have formulated different legislations to govern this research initiatives, most of which are through controlled funding to any stem cell research initiative. In the U.S. the government permits the use of federal funds to support stem cell researches, although the government has prohibited reproductive cloning (Duffy, 2002, Para. 1-2).
History of Stem Cell Legislation
Prior to President Bush’s government passing legislations, which largely marked the onset of the making of laws to govern stem cell research initiatives, Clinton’s government had enacted a number of legislations, which prohibited the Health and Human Services (HHS) department from funding any human embryonic stem cell research initiatives. Such legislations back dates to 1994, when Clinton’s government prohibited the National Institute of Health (NIH) from funding human embryonic stem cell researches. To effect the ban (which was in from of an executive directive), in 1996, Clinton’s government enacted funding rules (commonly called FY1996), which NIH had to follow.
This was followed by an annual congressional ban on the use of federal funds to fund stem cell research initiatives that destroyed or put at risk human embryonic cells, regardless of the method which scientists used to obtain them. Enactment of FY1996 rider was followed with enactment of more legislation under the General Provisions of the Labor, HHS and education appropriations Acts, which only banned the destruction of human embryonic cells, but supported fetal tissue research.
The1998 discovery on methods of culturing human embryonic cells marked a turn in stem cell legislation, because the statutory definition of a human embryo never encompassed human embryonic cells. Although this was the case, because still the 1996 rider was in place, most embryonic stem cell research initiatives were privately funded by the NIH. In 2000, because of the differences that still existed on the definition of an embryo, the government issued guidelines that allowed the NIH to use its funds to support any research initiatives that used pluripotent cells obtained from human embryos that were in excess after treating any fertility related cases.
These guidelines prohibited the removing and destruction of embryonic stem cells after any scientific research. When president bush came into power in 2001, the scenario changed drastically, because the 107th congress enacted a number of legislations that promoted this research initiative. The guidelines banned cloning for research purposes, illegalized the extracting of embryonic cells fro research purposes, allowed federal funding to only stem cell researches that used left over stem cells after IVF’s, restricted federal funding to any embryonic stem cell extraction initiative.
Later on, the government enacted the Stem Cell Research Act, and The Human Cloning Prohibition Act of 2002, which amended the law that prohibited federal funding to any stem cell research initiative, which created human embryonic stem cells for research purposes and illegalized human cloning respectively. Other laws that legislators introduced in 2001 included the Stem Cell Research for Patient Benefit Act, the Science of Stem Cell Research Act, and the New Century Health Advantage Act (NIH, 2009, p.1).
More developments trickled in with the enactment of the Human Cloning Prohibition Act of 2003 that forbade completely any from of reproductive and therapeutic cloning. Other bills that legislators introduced in 2003 included, H.R. 801-Cloning of Human beings, whose main was to revise the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetics Act, that promoted reproductive and therapeutic cloning; H.R. 106- Human cloning Research Prohibition Act, whose main mandate was to prohibit federal funding to any cloning research initiative; the Human Cloning Prevention Act, whose main mandate was to prohibit any federal agency from supporting any organizations involved in cloning; and S. 303-Human Cloning Ban and Stem Cell Research Protection Act of 2003.
Although. The government made the biggest advancement in January 2007, when it enacted the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act of 2007, which supported the use of federal funds for any human embryonic stem cell research project, which utilized embryos got from IVF clinics. Later on the same year, the senate added more bills that supported the use stem cell researchers, which never denatured human embryonic cells.
Although President Bush supported research initiatives that never destroyed human embryos, he vetoed the 2007 Act. Other Acts that legislators introduced in 2007 include the Hope Act, whose main mandate was to raise funds to support research initiatives that took into consideration the ethicalness of stem cell research and the Pluripotent Stem Cell Therapy Enhancement Act of 2007, whose main aim was to promote stem cell research initiatives that promoted the health of people (Thomas, 2008, p.1).
The coming of president Obama into power in 2008 changed the whole scenario about stem cell research, because his government lifted the laws that forbade the use of federal funds to support embryonic stem cell research initiatives, leading to the passing of the Enhancement Act. This act allowed the use and destruction of IVF obtained embryos. Other acts that legislators introduced in 2009 included: The Human Cloning Prohibition Act of 2009, Stem Cell research Improvement Act of 2009, Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act of 2009, Patient’s First Act of 2009, Human Cloning Prohibition Act of 2009, Cures Can Be found Act of 2009, and Ethical Stem Cell Research Tax Credit Act of 2009 (NIH, 2010, p.1).
Currently, there is an ongoing debate about the use of federal funds to support stem cell research projects, because of the numerous law suits that individuals have instituted against the use of federal funds on any stem cell research project. For example, in September a district court issue an enjoinment that forbade the use of federal funds to support stem cell research projects, although the court of appeals lifted the enjoinment (Radelat, 2010, P.1)
Stem Cell Research around the World
Just like in the United States where the government supports stem cell research for therapeutic purposes and research, the Canadian government also supports stem cell research researches, which use adult and embryonic stem cells obtained from IVF clinics, but it has prohibited therapeutic cloning. The Canadian government further prohibits the destroying of created embryonic stem cells. In Africa, the South African government permits therapeutic cloning of embryos, but has forbade reproductive cloning. In China, the Chinese government funds any therapeutic and research initiatives involving embryonic stem cells, but is has prohibited reproductive cloning.
Other Asian countries that support stem cell research for therapeutic and research purposes include India, Singapore (allows the use of embryos that are less than two weeks old for therapeutic research purposes), and South Korea. European countries that support stem cell research include Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Sweden, and the United Kingdom. All these nations support therapeutic cloning fro medical and experimental purposed, but have banned reproductive cloning. The Middle East has not also been left behind, because some the Middle East countries, for example, Israel and Saudi Arabia support therapeutic cloning for research and medical purposes, but prohibits reproductive cloning (International Legislation on Human Embryonic Stem Cell Research, 2010, p.1)
Future of Stem Cell Research
Although currently the primary sources of human embryonic cells are embryos use in IVF Clinics, with the current innovations in stem cell research Initiative aimed at developing other techniques of obtaining embryonic stem cells, likelihoods of governments flexing stem cell legislations are high.
For example, most scientists are finding ways of differentiating other body cells and body fluids, for example, skin cells and the amniotic fluid, to produce and other body stem cells. If these like initiatives succeed, the ethicalness of stem cell research will not be questionable, because as this will avert the need to use embryonic stem cells, because of their ability to differentiate easily (Klimanskaya, Chung, Becker, Lu, & Lanza, 2006, pp. 481-485).
Conclusion: Personal Opinion
The controversy behind stem cell research rotates around the destruction of human embryonic cells after researches. Hence, the issue of governments limiting the number of funds to stem cell researches is wrong, as most of such legislation have greatly affected the extraction of human embryonic cells for medical and research purposes. In my opinion, president Obama’s brave move to lift Bush’s ban on federal funding to stem cell research initiative was right, because of the medical significance of stem cells. It is not possible to fund the extraction of human embryonic cells and not fund their use or vice versa, because the two processes are interdependent.
Therefore, there is need for the federal government to increases funding to stem cell research organizations and adjust laws governing the practice. This is the only way of encouraging development of new methods of differentiating cells, which can replace the use of embryonic cells for research and therapeutic purposes. On the other hand, to ensure that, court injunctions do not disturb any research initiative, the government should enact tough legislations to protect researchers from public and governmental prejudice.
Duffy, T. D. (2002). Background and legal issues related to stem cell research. Congressional Research Service. Web.
International Legislation on Human Embryonic Stem Cell Research: ISSCR (2010). Categories of governments policies. ISSCR Media. Web.
Klimanskaya, I., Chung, Y., Becker, S., Lu, S. J., & Lanza, R.2006. Human embryonic stem cell lines derived from single blastomeres. Nature, 444 (7118), 481–5.
National Institute of Health. (2009). National Institute of Health Resource for stem cell research. National Institute of Health. Web.
National Institute of Health. (2010). Congressional legislation. NIH. Web.
Radelat, A. (2010). Lawmakers craft legislation to protect stem cell research. Capital news. Web.
Thomas. Bill Summary and status. (2009). Web.