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Articles relating to the ethics of stem cell research

Islets of Hope Editorial
Stem Cell Harvesting and Research Ethics vs The Ethics of Being Human

The Ethics of Human Embryonic Stem Cell Research.  International Society for Stem Cell Research

Stem Cell Research: The law, ethics and common sense.  UniSci

Stem Cell Research Ethics Links

Stem cells: a pluripotent challenge- Chris MacDonald, Ph.D., an ethicist at Dalhousie University's Department of Bioethics.

Illinois Right to Life: Stem Cell Research

Therapeutic Cloning vs. Adult Stem Cell Research

New stem cell techniques avoid ethical concerns:  By Clive Cookson, Science Editor, Monday, October 17, 2005.  “Science EditorUS scientists have developed two new ways of generating embryonic stem cells, designed to avoid some of the ethical objections to current methods that involve destroying "potential human life".   The journal Nature published papers on both techniques in its online edition on Sunday. They work well in mice and the researchers believe they could be applied to human stem cells... 

Stem Cell - ES Cell Protocols - (Stem Cell Research Protocols and Culture)  



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The Ethics and Politics of Stem Cell Harvesting & Research
Reprint of an excerpt from article on

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Stem Cell Policy Debate in the United States
World-Wide Stem Cell Policy Debate

Stem Cell Policy Debate in the United States

Origins of debate

In 1995, Congress passed the Dickey Amendment, prohibiting federal funding of research that involves the use of a human embryo. Privately funded research led to the breakthrough that made embryonic stem cell research possible in 1998, prompting the Clinton Administration to develop federal regulations for its funding. Preparations for this funding were completed in 2001. President George W. Bush announced, on August 9, 2001 that federal funds could be used to support research on the newly developed field of human embryonic stem cells, but that funding would be limited to "existing (embryonic) stem cell lines where the 'life-and-death decision' has already been made" [1]. This limitation does not apply to research involving stem cells from other sources, such as umbilical cord blood, placentas, and adult and animal tissues. Some conservative religious groups felt the restrictions should have been stronger, while some scientists felt frustrated with the restrictions.

In 2002, President Bush appointed the Council on Bioethics, an advisory group composed of 18 doctors, legal and ethical scholars, scientists and a journalist [2]. In February 2004, Bush removed from the council two advocates of embryonic stem cell research, professor of ethics William May and biologist Elizabeth Blackburn [3]. In their place, he appointed pediatric neurosurgeon Dr. Benjamin Carson, political scientist Dr. Diana Schaub, and professor of government Dr. Peter Lawler, all of whom have a more cautious point of view toward embryonic stem cell research. All of the Council members support adult stem cell research. Some scientists are concerned that embryonic stem cell research has become a politicized issue instead of a scientific issue in the national mindset, and feel that the politicization distorts representation of the scientific issues.

Private funding

The Bush administration's decision does not prohibit private embryonic stem cell research. Pharmaceutical companies and biotechnology companies initially expressed little interest because they consider therapies based on cells, which might have to be tailored to each patient, to be less profitable than one-size-fits-all drugs. However, there are start-up biotechs entering the field. They include StemCells Inc. and Aastrom Biosciences. Others are reluctant to enter the market because they fear government restrictions preventing them from capitalizing on the research. However, private research groups (such as pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies) are now financing individual medical treatments, including all of those mentioned in this article.

Congressional Response

In April 2004, 206 members of Congress, including many moderate Republicans, signed a letter urging President Bush to expand federal funding of embryonic stem cell research beyond what Bush had already supported.

In May 2005, the House of Representatives voted 238-194 to loosen the limitations on embryonic stem-cell research — by allowing surplus frozen embryos from in vitro fertilization clinics to be used for stem cell research with the permission of donors — despite Bush's promise to veto the bill if passed. [4] Similar measures are pending in the Senate. On July 29, 2005, Senate Majority Leader William H. Frist (R-TN), announced that he too favored loosening restrictions on federal funding of embryonic stem-cell research, making passage of an embryonic stem-cell funding bill in the Senate more likely. [5]

Polls Regarding Embryonic Stem Cell Research

Republican voters are divided on embryonic stem cell research, according to a survey of 800 conducted by pollster David Winston, who also conducts surveys for the Republican leadership in the House and Senate. 25% of Republicans said they wanted no government funding of the research, 33% favored the limited funding Bush offers, and 36% wanted expanded funding to cover research on leftover embryos at fertility clinics. The Winston poll was sponsored by a group of centrist Republicans, The Republican Main Street Partnership.[6][7][8]

A June 2004 poll conducted by Opinion Research Corp. on behalf of the Civil Society Institute found that three-quarters of 1,017 adults respondents -- including 6 in 10 conservatives -- supported former First Lady Nancy Reagan's call for fewer restrictions on the research. 

Therapeutic cloning was supported by 59% of respondents in a July 2005 poll of 1,000 adults. Remaining a world leader in medical research was considered important by 95% of respondents. The poll was conducted by Research! America and sponsored by a nonprofit organization composed of universities, patient groups and biotech and pharmaceutical companies.[9]

Emerging U.S. State-by-State Approach

California voters in November 2004 approved Proposition 71, creating a US $3 billion state taxpayer-funded institute for stem cell research, the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine. Providing $300 million a year, the institute is thought to be the world's largest single backer of research in stem cells, and is expected to substantially increase the pace of embryonic stem cell research.

Several states, in some cases wary of a national migration of biotech researchers to California [10], have shown interest in providing their own funding support of embryonic and adult stem cell research. These states include Connecticut [11], Florida, Illinois, Massachusetts [12], New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas [13][14], Washington, and Wisconsin.

Other states have, or have shown interest in, additional restrictions or even complete bans on embryonic stem cell research. These states include Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Michigan, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Virginia. (States play catch-up on stem cells, USA Today, December 2004)  

World-Wide Policy Debate

Due to the controversy surrounding embryonic stem cells, many nations around the world have passed legislation regulating research.

In the United Kingdom, the law states that a license may be issued to enable embryos to be created or used for research for the following purposes:

  1. Promoting advances in the treatment of infertility,
  2. Increasing knowledge about the causes of congenital disease,
  3. Increasing knowledge about the causes of miscarriages,
  4. Developing more effective techniques of contraception, or
  5. Developing methods for detecting the presence of gene or chromosome abnormalities in embryos before implantation,
  6. Increasing knowledge about the development of embryos;
  7. Increasing knowledge about serious disease, or
  8. Enabling any such knowledge to be applied in developing treatments for serious disease.
(Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990 as amended by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology (Research Purposes) Regulations 2001).

As a result of the federal funding restrictions imposed by Congress in the United States, South Korea and other countries lead the U.S. in the area of embryonic stem cell research. The UK created the world's first embryonic stem cell bank in May 2004. Because other countries have moved forward with their embryonic stem cell research programs, some in the U.S. have questioned the practicality of the Congressional funding restrictions.

The nations conducting research programs on stem cell research include: [15] the UK, South Korea, China, Australia, Israel, Singapore, Argentina, Uruguay, and Sweden. European nations that permit stem cell research also include Switzerland, Finland, Greece and the Netherlands. The UK allows the creation of human embryos for stem cell procurement. Countries with regulations allowing cloning for medical research include the UK, Belgium, Singapore and Japan. Recently Brazil has approved a law allowing the use of stem cells in research.

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