Legislation To Loosen Federal Stem Cell Funding Could Change Focus of State Program
Passage of a bill (HR 810) that would loosen restrictions on federal funding for human embryonic stem cell research likely would shift grant awards by the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine "squarely toward the controversial field known as research cloning," the San Francisco Chronicle reports (Hall, San Francisco Chronicle, 5/26).
The bill, sponsored by Rep. Michael Castle (R-Del.) with nearly 200 co-sponsors, would expand federal funding for embryonic stem cell research and allow research using stem cells derived from embryos originally created for fertility treatments and willingly donated by patients. The bill would not allow federal funding for embryonic stem cell research on stem cell lines or embryos created expressly for research purposes.
The Senate is expected to take up an identical bill soon, and the measure likely has enough support to pass.
The current embryonic stem cell research policy allows federal funding for the research only when the cells are extracted from stem cell lines created on or before Aug. 9, 2001, the date that President Bush announced the policy (California Healthline, 5/25).
Bush has said he would veto the bill if it reaches his desk, and it is "unlikely" that there are enough votes in the House to override a veto, the Chronicle reports.
However, if the bill were to become law, CIRM likely will shift its grant-awarding focus because Proposition 71 gives "high priority" to stem cell research that does not receive "timely or sufficient federal funding, unencumbered by limitations that would impede the research."
The federal bill does not include funding for research on cloned embryos, similar to those recently developed in South Korea. According to the Chronicle, cloned stem cells would be the "most obvious" area of research for CIRM.
Zach Hall, interim president of CIRM, said, "We will give preference to those things not eligible for federal funding." He added that if the bill were approved, CIRM's "biggest emphasis" would be on somatic cell nuclear transfer -- the process used by South Korean scientists involving cloned embryos. "We will be doing SCNT in any case," Hall said, adding, "That is too critical a technology for us not to be involved in it."
Hank Greeley, a law professor at Stanford University who served on a 2002 state cloning panel, said, "Some people who generally favor stem cell research do have a problem when you are creating to be destroying embryos." Greeley added that he doubted many California residents had serious objections about research cloning and noted that the practice is legal under state laws that prohibit reproductive cloning.
David Magnus, director of a bioethics program at Stanford, said people who initially are opposed to research cloning would have fewer concerns when informed that researchers take "something like the first two or three steps out of the 100 steps you need to take" in order to develop a cloned embryo to birth. He added, "[N]o reputable scientists are even working on the other 97 steps" (San Francisco Chronicle, 5/26).
Summaries of recent editorials in California newspapers addressing the House vote and CIRM appear below.
Los Angeles Times: In vitro fertilization, which Bush supports, "unavoidably involves the creation and knowing destruction of many embryos," a Times editorial states, adding that Bush's support for IVF is "the biggest flaw in logic" and the "moral weak point" of his argument against stem cell research. According to the editorial, for people who have an "uncertain or ambiguous" opinion on whether embryos are "full human beings," stem cell research is "a choice between real human lives and a symbolic statement about the value of an embryo" (Los Angeles Times, 5/26).
Los Angeles Times: Klein "should welcome the constitutional amendment" by Sen. Deborah Ortiz (D-Sacramento) "because it could insulate the institute from lawsuits alleging that the lack of public oversight had rendered the stem cell bonds unconstitutional," a Times editorial states. Instead, CIRM leaders "are engaging in inexcusable rhetoric," the editorial continues. If Klein wanted CIRM "to be free of legislative controls," he "should have moved quickly to make certain that the institute would follow ethical and public-meeting standards," according to the editorial (Los Angeles Times, 5/26).
- Sacramento Bee: A Bee editorial offers a "compromise" for ICOC and Ortiz on the proposed amendment to the state constitution. Ortiz's conflict-of-interest provision "overreaches" by requiring peer reviewers "not only to disclose their biomedical stock holdings, but also to divest those holdings or put them in a blind trust," the editorial states. "Public disclosure -- similar to what is required for state officials -- should be the rule here," according to the editorial. Regarding peer review meetings, requiring all of them to be held in the open "may be unrealistic," but "there is no reason these meetings need to be completely closed," the editorial states. The editorial adds that Ortiz's proposal to make stem cell therapies affordable to all Californians "could easily wait two years," when lawmakers "have the legal standing" to amend Proposition 71 (Sacramento Bee, 5/26).