Embryonic Stem Cell Research


Background: In 2009, following a directive from President Obama, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) published guidelines for government funding of destructive embryonic stem cell research (ESCR). In 2011, the ESCR guidelines were upheld in a court challenge.

Legislation: On June 24, 2011, Rep. Diana DeGette (D-CO) introduced the Stem Cell Research Advancement Act (H.R. 2376), which was promoted as the vehicle to place the Obama guidelines in permanent law. The bill had 30 co-sponsors and was referred to the Subcommittee on Health of the Committee on Energy and Commerce.

The Secretary of HHS was authorized to conduct and support research using human stem cells, include embryonic stem cells, which must be derived from human embryos donated by IVF clinics. The embryos must be in excess of those needed for treatment, be otherwise discarded, and be given with written informed consent of the donors. The Secretary, with the Director of NIH, was authorized to maintain, review and update guidelines for human stem cell research. The bill contained a prohibition against government funding of human cloning, but the term “human cloning” was defined to mean implantation of a human clone into a uterus. As a result, human clones not implanted in a uterus could be destroyed through government funded research.

Public Opinion Polling: A recent public opinion poll showed that 47% of Americans oppose federal funding of stem cell research that involves destroying human embryos, while only 38% support such funding. These findings were consistent with earlier polls in 2004, 2005, and 2006. Asked whether scientists should be allowed to clone human embryos to be destroyed in medical research, 12% responded “yes,” 76% responded “no.”

At year’s end, H.R. 2376 was still pending in committee.