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Stem Cell Legislation
Stem cells research is a branch of medicine that has it focus on research that harvest stem cells from living organisms for purpose of disease treatment. It was first feasible in 1981 when stem cells were successfully isolated in mice; however breakthrough in isolating stem cells in human was achieved seven years later in 1988. With this breakthrough scientist have since been advancing and refining stem cell treatments which today can successfully be carried to cure diseases that are presently considered incurable. Stem cell treatment employs a procedure where cells harvested from other organisms are introduced to host suffering from a disease to enable treatment. According to Vestal (2008), the stem cells must be harvested from existing living organism, it is this controversy that has dogged the stem cell research since its evolution and which continues to be the major obstacle in adoption of stem cell treatment as a viable option for treating presently incurable diseases.
After abortion was first legalized in U.S in 1973 the first in vitro fertilization in humans was achieved and the stage was now set for further advances in the field of stem cell research. The initial legislation were therefore meant to address this developments and regulate research in use of human embryos by outlawing use of federal funds to advance research in this field, but this alone would not be enough (Long, 2009). With these restrictions in place and lack of long term sustained source of funding that was necessary to advance stem cell research, a panel of NIH Human Embryo Research was convened and wrote a proposal to then president of U.S Bill Clinton that sought to have restriction on use of federal funding in stem research using human embryo lifted.
The Clinton administration in response allowed use of federal funding in embryos that were not specifically developed for use in stem cell research and declined to allow funding in stem research that made use of human embryos that were deliberately made for this purpose. The contentious issues centered on matters of ethics, sanctity to life and morality with religion leaders voicing their concerns. The final blow on research of stem cell was rendered through Dickey amendment which was signed into law in the same year by Clinton that finally put rest to the discussion. Under the act it become illegal to use federal funding in advancing research through use of human embryo regardless of the source or purpose of which the embryo was made available. However this act didn't place a blanket ban on stem cell research that was privately financed, but served to cut financial resource that had been to key in advancing the stem cell research (Vestal, 2008).
With this outcome the stage on stem cell research shifted to private corporate entities that were willing to fund the ongoing research efforts for monetary gains. In 1998 the final breakthrough in stem cell research that would eventually enable stem cell treatment occurred through privately owned research facilities. With the benefits that now came with the discovery of treatment through stem cells of previously incurable diseases such as cancers and diabetics the U.S legislators gradually started changing their hard line stance. In early 2001 president Bush sought to review the Dickey act to allow a limited number of human embryos to be used for stem cell treatment and research in a government funded initiative, in the same year this reviews were implemented and allowed to take place in an environment that was well controlled by other legislations that were still in place (Zullinger & Brown, 2008). The following year, the journal Science voted 1999 the stem cell research year noting that significance breakthrough in the field were achieved then.
In April of 2004, congress members petitioned President Bush to fast track current efforts and increase funding on research of stem cells and treatment, but this was not enough to achieve the necessary change in legislation. In May 2005 the petition was put to the floor of the house and member voted in favor of easing the federal funding restrictions on stem cell research. Federal funding would now be allowed in stem cell research through use of human embryos but with consent from the embryo donors (Vestal, 2008). But the bill was not vetoed by President Bush even after it was supported by the majority house members and the recommendations could not take effect immediately.
On July, 2006 the house senate consented to three different bills that both pertained to stem cell research and federal funding. The first bill legalized and increased federal funding for stem cell research that used human embryos with consent of their donors. However perhaps in order to seal loopholes that could have resulted from this legislation another bill that made it illegal for provisions or growth of human embryos solely for research initiatives including abortion was passed. The third bill focused and allowed funding in other areas of research that would promote stem cell research to advance without having to destroy life of human embryos. In the same year more than 600 million dollars were used from federal money reserves in stem cell research program. In the fall of 2006 the Stem Cell Research Enhancement act was vetoed by President Bush as well as Fetal farming Prohibition Act which prohibited human fetal donation for purposes of stem cell research (Long, 2009).
In 2007, California Institute of Regenerative Medicine awarded the biggest ever financial grant of $45millions towards embryonic stem cell research in absence of a government legislation that was in line to the research grants. All the money was awarded to leading research institutions that pursued stem cell research. In 2008, state of Michigan effected an amendment in their state that allowed scientists in their jurisdiction to carry out research of embryonic stem cell from human embryos derived and fetuses (Long, 2009).
In March, 2009 shortly after taking office President Obama further eased restrictions that controlled use of federal funding in stem cell research of human embryos, through a presidential executive order that scrapped opposition of federal funding to embryonic stem cell research. This would now for the first time allow federal funding on stem cell research on human embryos but still subject to certain limitations. Earlier in the year the U.S Food and Drug Administration endorsed clinical trials in stem cell treatment (Long, 2009). Notable to note is that prior legislative amendments have only achieved federal funding in stem cell research of non-embryos.
Legislation of laws meant to regulate stem cell research and treatment in U.S is an area that still continues to elicit heated debates among the lawmakers and politicians. However it is in no way limited to U.S alone, in 1990 U.K, Britain Human Fertilization and embryology Act was passed into law. The act allowed stem cell research through cultivation of embryos however it placed limitation of research to areas that would generate increased knowledge in field of in vitro fertilization of cells. In 2001 the same act was amended to allow research in stem cells to enable cloning of tissues for treatment purposes however somatic cloning of cells research was not granted within these amendments (Vestal, 2008). Other changes that were made in the act was lifting a ban on state fund towards stem cell research and more importantly allowed human embryos to be developed purely for stem cell research purposes with limited conditions. At about the same time seven scientists in U.S opened a case at the high court in Thompson vs Thompson where the Bush Administration were the defendants for their decisions to freeze funding on stem cell research (Zullinger & Brown, 2008).
In November of 2001 Germany and France announced that they will agitate for an international ban of human cloning that was now possible due to breakthrough in the stem cell research. The United Nations responded by forming a committee in the auspices of an international convention that has mandate to draft policies that sought to ban stem cell application for human cloning. In 2002 negotiation that would have seen an international ban on human cloning take place are suspended after Vatican and U.S raise last minute objections that sought to have all forms of cloning, including for treatment purposes banned resulting in an impasse (Zullinger & Brown, 2008).
In 2002 Research Involving Embryos and Prohibition of Human Cloning Bill brought in the floor of Australian parliament and passed. At the same time the Singapore government passes laws that allowed human cloning to occur in specific stem cell research projects without effecting other legislation that would have regulated and controlled proliferation of unwarranted stem cell research. In 2004, two scientists from South Korea announces successful ever human cloning in country where debate and legislation on stem cell research is tightly controlled by the government agencies, one year later the same scientist carry out cloning of humans using somatic cells, in a technology that most countries have been trying to regulate and prevent citing moral and ethical issues (Zullinger and Brown, 2008).
With these developments the future of stem cell research still hangs in the balance with majority of countries still fumbling with legislation to address the advance in the science of stem cell. As documented above the U.S has so far the most comprehensive legislation that regulates and controls stem cell research for cloning and therapeutic purposes. Other Countries that have legislation in place are Britain which gave out the first license that allowed cloning for stem cell treatment. With the current restricting legislation on stem cell research that are in place future decisions that might lift most of this restrictions to allow cloning from U.S lawmakers will be delayed and minimal. However with direction that the current legislation in the field has been taking it is more likely that the hard line stance would continue to soften over the coming years as has already happened.
Besides the future and the benefits that stem cell research provides are immense and a matter of urgency to the persons who most need the technology in order to relieve their conditions. The ever increasing cases of persons with disease that modern medicine cannot treat would be just one area that would be continuously agitating for favorable legislation, and the governments and law makers in future will encounter increased resistance to legislation that are seen to restrict the use of stem cell research for treatment purposes (Long, 2009). This is not to mention members from research fraternity that have always been at the forefront of pushing for amendments in legislation that would legalize stem cell treatment and research as was the case in Thompson vs. Thompson federal suit.
Besides this the moral and ethical issues that surround stem cell research, treatment and cloning are not about to disappear. When certain core values are enshrined in a constitution, then future legislation acts and constitutional amendments should not be seen to contradict this. The U.S constitution guarantees right to live, pursuit of happiness and sanctity of life, if stem cell research that allows fetal harvesting and growth for the sole purpose of research were allowed, the it would be in contradiction to sanctity and right to live as enshrined in constitution since it will be endorsing destruction of life of the fetus (Zullinger & Brown, 2008). If the stem cell treatment were to be declined then right to pursuit of happiness and health care as contained in the constitution would be contradicting, the catch 22 scenario. Perhaps the question now and the way forward should be whether to continue stem cell research or stem cell therapy.
Vestal, C. (2008). Stem Cell Research at the Crossroads of Religion and Politics. Pew
Forum Paper, 13(6), Retrieved April 9th , 2010 from http//www.pewforumwebsite/article/2008.html.
Long, C. (2009). Timeline of Stem Cell Debate. Washington Post, 65, Retrieved April 9th,2010 from http://www.govtrack.us/congress/bill.xpd?bill=s111-487
Zullinger, J., & Brown, K. (2008). Stem Cell Research Evolution. Garland Science 57.
Retrieved April 9th 2010 from http://search.garlandscience.org/login.aspx.