CQ reports two alternatives under consideration by the Obama Administration to revise current federal stem cell policy:
Obama could issue an executive order lifting the restriction — which permits federal funding for research only on those stem cell colonies extracted before Aug. 9, 2001 — and authorize research on all embryonic stem cell lines, as long as the cells are “ethically derived.”
This would not award more money for the field per se, but dramatically expand the kind of stem cell research that’s eligible for federal grants, as long as donors give informed consent and are not paid to donate eggs or embryos.
The approach is outlined in a new policy paper from the Center for American Progress (CAP), a left-leaning think tank founded by John Podesta, who also headed Obama’s transition team.
But some patient advocates and research institutions favor a more minimalistic approach they say would keep politics and science apart.
The Coalition for the Advancement of Medical Research (CAMR) has been urging Obama to simply rescind the Bush policy — a move that would, by implication, leave it to the National Institutes of Health to issue guidelines for the field.
Coalition President Amy Comstock Rick said that policy making should be put in the hands of scientists and bioethicists, instead of elected officials. If Obama’s is too prescriptive in the way he undoes Bush’s policy, future president might feel compelled to tweak or revise Obama’s policy.
Whichever path he chooses, Obama can rest assured that the Democratic Congress will weigh in and try to codify the stem cell position into law later this year.
The executive summary from CAP has a rebuttal to the argument that all the benefits of stem cell research can be gained without use of embryonic stem cells:
Opponents also point to so-called induced pluripotent stem cells, which are created when adult cells—say, skin cells—are reprogrammed to become all-purpose “pluripotent” cells. These arguments are valid, but only up to a point. The reason: embryonic stem cells are both the original “master cells” capable of turning into any cell in the body as well as the “gold standard” against which all other stem cells must be compared
A full report and links to other information are provided in the CAP link above. CAMR argues for relaxed federal restrictions along these lines:
Stem cell research is one of the most exciting fields of study for young researchers, yet many are hesitant to enter a field with an uncertain future and funding restrictions. In addition, the restrictions fly in the face of the diversity requirements established by the Federal government for clinical research. The federally approved lines do not represent the diversity in our society, which is a critical part of ensuring that new medicines work for everyone.