In August 2001, President George W. Bush authorized federal funding for stem cell research on some two dozen existing cell lines created from embryos donated after artificial fertilization procedures, and he extended federal funding for research on adult stem and core blood cells. Critics have charged that limiting federal funding to research on existing lines has essentially stymied U.S. stem cell research.
As speakers explained at a March 9 AEI conference, however, federal policy has not prevented states from funding such research. California’s recently approved Proposition 71 amended the state constitution to fund stem cell research, and David Gollaher of the California Health Care Institute said he looks forward to the establishment of the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine as a major resource for research and funding.
John Gearhart of Johns Hopkins University discussed two bills in the Maryland legislature--one banning and one funding further stem cell research--but doubted that either bill would pass in the current legislative session. Rutgers University’s Wise Young argued on behalf of greater federal funding, noting that state funding--including New Jersey’s commitment of $150 million for 2005 and proposed $210 million over the next seven years--may significantly exceed the National Institutes of Health funding by 2006. He called the federal policy on stem cell research a failure since, in his view, it has effectively stalled embryonic stem cell research in the United States, diminished U.S. leadership in biomedical research, and not saved any embryos. Dr. Wise warned of a potential “moral catastrophe” if stem cells prove useful in treating conditions like diabetes and brain injuries, but there are not enough available stem cells to treat all patients.
Private companies are expanding research on stem cells as well. Ken Giacin described StemCyte as one of the largest umbilical cord blood stem cell banks in the world; its success derives from an increase of umbilical cord blood in transplants and of state resources. Robert Lanza of the Wake Forest University School of Medicine set forth the prospect that stem cells could help reconstitute tissues and organs such as myocardial patches, kidneys, and hearts.
Lori Knowles from the University of Alberta identified three international categories of stem cell regulation: countries like Austria and Norway outlaw embryo research altogether; others restrict research to surplus in-vitro fertilization embryos; and some adopt a “permissive” approach under which embryos may be created for the purpose of research. As the United States moves toward a comprehensive national policy, she listed licensing schemes, the consent of donors of human biological material, and continuing legislative review (utilizing sunset clauses and limited moratoria), as issues that must be considered.
Keynote speaker Francis Fukuyama of the Johns Hopkins School for Advanced International Studies recommended creating a federal agency to regulate reproductive biomedicine modeled after Great Britain’s Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority and Canada’s Assisted Reproduction Agency. Fukuyama argued that embryos have an “intermediate moral status,” meaning that they are not yet fully human but possess greater value than other clumps of cells. He called stem cell research “legitimate” but insisted that reproductive cloning, the patenting of human embryos, and new reproductive possibilities “that alter the biological relationship of parents and children” must be prohibited while prenatal genetic screening, biomedical research involving early-stage embryos, sex selection, and the commercialization of elements of human reproduction should be regulated. He proposed that this new independent agency set up public participation mechanisms to avoid polarization.