Current Policies on Stem Cell Research

Current Policies on Stem Cell Research

In July 2006, the U.S. Senate passed the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act of 2005, a bill that relaxed restrictions on government funding for stem cell research. The bill would allow frozen embryos in fertility clinics to be used for research as an alternative to disposal (it is currently legal to dispose of surplus embryos by incineration or by flushing them down a drain). President George W. Bush vetoed that bill, citing moral objections to the destruction of new human embryos. Privately-funded embryonic stem cell research remains legal in the U.S., as does federally-funded research using existing cell lines.

Rules regarding embryonic stem cell research differ throughout the rest of the world. As of 2003, the United Kingdom, Sweden, Finland, Greece, and the Netherlands all allowed embryonic stem cells to be sourced from surplus embryos in fertility clinics. The practice was illegal in France, Ireland, Spain, Denmark, and Austria. Most Asian countries permit embryonic stem cell research. Few laws concerning stem cell research have passed in Muslim countries, although the practice is controversial there. Concern is growing among medical professionals that countries that ban embryonic stem cell research will lose top researchers to well-funded institutions in other countries.

The rhetoric escalated in June 2006 when Cardinal Alfonso López Trujillo, leader of the Catholic Pontifical Council for the Family, threatened Catholic stem cell researchers and embryo donors with excommunication.

In May of 2009, President Obama reversed the Bush administration's restriction of using taxpayer money to fund research on only 21 stem lines. At that time, however, no change was made to the ban on using federal money to develop stem cell lines. Federal money may be used to research lines that were created without the use of federal funds, however.

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