11 July 2011
ByAppeared in BioNews 615
Diana DeGette, Republican representative for Colorado, who has sponsored the bill, said: 'This legislation would place into statute a framework to ensure such critical research can be conducted unimpeded by political interference'.
If approved, the Stem Cell Research Advancement Act 2011 will seek to codify the US National Institutes of Health's (NIH) guidelines for human embryonic stem cell (hESC) research and will require the guidelines to be reviewed every three years. The Act will also prohibit the use of federal funds for human cloning techniques.
It is the third time such legislation has been considered by US politicians. Previous versions, which supporters say were similar to the current bill, were approved by Congress in 2006 and 2007 to be ultimately vetoed by former President George Bush. DeGette has called for broad bipartisan support for the new bill which she says was critical when passing the previous legislation - 'it certainly is critical for us now', she said.
The bill, co-sponsored by Pennsylvania Republican Charlie Dent, would give legislative backing to President Obama's 2009 executive order allowing federal funds to be used for hESC research. Proponents of the new bill say uncertainty generated by current legal proceedings about hESC research funding - and the possibility of a future president overriding the order - is having a chilling effect on new research. The bill 'does establish ethical criteria for stem cell research, and I think that's very, very important', said Dent.
In 2010, two scientists challenged the NIH arguing its guidelines which followed Obama's order contravened a 1996 law called the Dickey-Wicker amendment – which features in the Labor, Health and Human Services appropriations bill that funds the NIH. The law prohibits the use of federal funds for hESC research on embryos which are to be destroyed.
A temporary injunction on hESC research was lifted by a federal appeals court, which also confirmed the plaintiffs' ability to continue the case. The matter is now being determined by US District Court Judge Royce Lambert, with the final decision expected in the coming weeks.