Stem Cell Research in the United States
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The policy on Stem Cell Research in the United States is connected with the politics on abortion. In 1973, the Supreme Court held in Roe vs. Wade that the decision regarding abortion is private between the woman and her doctor. This Supreme Court decision ignited anti-abortion movements that oppose researches on embryos. The US government thus banned federal funding of search on embryos, and embryonic or fetal tissues. This ban has driven most infertility research, including the in vitro fertilization, into the private sector. On August 9, 2001, for the first time, President Bush allowed the federal funding of Human Embryonic Stem Cell Research on already existing stem cell lines (Wertz, 2002). The religious groups expressed their dissatisfaction, and the scientists questioned the adequacy of existing stem cell lines.
On June 20, 2007, the President, through Executive Order 13435, ordered the Secretary of Health and Human Services to conduct and support the “isolation, derivation, production, and testing” of stem cells that are capable of producing cell types of the developing body and may result in development of treatment of various diseases. The order, however, prohibits the derivation of stem cells through creating a human embryo or “destroying, discarding, or subjecting to harm” a human embryo. Executive Order 13435 declares as one of its policies the need to establish moral and ethical boundaries as this would allegedly allow the nation to move forward while maintain the utmost respect for human life and human dignity. The order likewise declares that the destruction of human embryo is a violation of the principle that a life should not be used as a means to an end, i.e. the medical benefit of another person (Federal Register, 2007).
Arguably, Executive Order 13435 assumes that a human embryo is a human being, a view that is not shared by everyone. In fact, the order declared that human embryos are living members of human species, and are thus not raw materials that should be exploited or be considered as commodities. The policies that are declared in the order are reflective of the religious and moral views and convictions of President Bush. However, the order is also reflective of the desire to further the stem cell research, with the aim of understanding the normal stem cell development, which will pave the way for understanding and correction of various medical problems.
On March 9, 2009, President Obama removed some restrictions on stem cell research. Recognizing the benefits the stem cell research may bring, the Executive Order 13505 expanded the support from National Institutes of Health for the stem cell research. Previously, the funding of stem cell research by the Department of Health and Human Services is limited by the actions of the President. Executive Order 13505 seeks to remove this restriction. The order declares the need to increase the contribution of scientists to new discoveries for the common good (Federal Register, 2009). Until now, however, there are still ethical issues concerning stem cell research. While some favor adult stem cell research, which is unrestricted as it does not involve the issue of destroying an embryo, others are against embryonic stem cell research as it is essentially linked to ethical issues.
In other countries, the policies on stem cell research are also dependent on the existing dominant philosophical and ethical standpoints of the legislators. Belgium, for example, shares the same legal stand with the United States. It does allow the procurement of embryonic stem cells but only from surplus of embryos used in in vitro fertilization. Germany and Italy, on the other hand, prohibit the procurement of embryonic stem cells from human embryos, but states like Austria, Bulgaria, Ireland, Lithuania, Malta, Luxembourg, Cyprus, Poland, Slovakia, and Romania have no specific legislation regarding the matter (EuroStemCell, 2007).
According to Christopher Thomas Scott (2006), the transplants using embryonic stem cells are possible cure to autoimmune diseases. Autoimmune diseases happen when the body is attacked by its own white blood cells. Our own immune system can distinguish between the cells that are “self” and those that are “not-self” or the foreign invaders. Autoimmune disease can cause rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, juvenile diabetes, lupus, and Crohn’s disease. The treatments that we are currently employing only tend to ameliorate the problems. The transplants from one person to another usually lead to the rejection of host’s tissue as it is recognized by the body as a foreign invader.
Scott further noted that stem cell research could lead to the development of drugs that could possible prevent certain diseases from occurring. Through what is called Preimplantation Genetic Diagnosis (PGD), an embryo sampling technique, certain disorders like cystic fibrosis, sickle cell anemia, and Huntington’s could be detected.
The benefits that the society would get from stem cell research cannot be disputed. There is an overwhelming number of people in the United States supporting the stem cell research, despite the fact that there are those who oppose. This is because over a hundred million Americans suffer from diseases, and this research has a big possibility of bringing treatments to various medical problems. The taxpayers are expecting the government to do whatever it can to provide the best health care system. Health care system does not only mean providing the drugs that the patients need. It also requires the positive act of the government towards the development of cures to illnesses. Stem cell research is a big leap towards the discovery of treatments. It is just right for the government to support the research, in keeping with the welfare of the society.
In California, voters passed the Proposition 71. Proposition 71 seeks to provide funds amounting to $ 3 billion to stem cell research. The voters were persuaded to vote for the proposition as this would arguably give the state a large return on its investment in direct revenue, lower health care costs, and jobs.
Despite disagreements as to whether embryonic stem cell research is ethical and whether it should be publicly funded, millions have acted as advocates of the same, arguing that federal funding will lead to a speedier research. The government, as the protector of its citizens, has to listen, and address this public clamor to support the stem cell research even though it may seem to offend others’ religious beliefs.
Executive Order 1505 is already a big step towards the furtherance of the stem cell research. The principle that it upholds, i.e. that there should only be minimal restriction to scientific research involving human stem cells, may serve as a precedent to future legislations regarding the matter. If the present research would be able to come up with great discoveries, it is very likely that there would be more states which would follow the path of the state of California.
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