December 06, 2002
Embryonic Stem Cell Legislation In Australia, US States

The passage by the Australian Senate makes the final approval of a law defining Australian law regarding embryonic stem cell research (ESC) a certainty. The Australian House Of Representatives has to agree to the minor changes that the Senate made to the version of the bill that the Australian House already passed (and by a very wide 3-to-1 margin). While the Australian law is not as lax as that in the UK the researchers and investors in Australian will be able to work on embryonic stem cells with far less legal doubt and uncertainty than equivalent researchers face in the US.

After months of delay and often bitter public debate, Australia's Senate yesterday (December 5) passed legislation regulating embryonic stem (ES) cell research 45 votes to 26, along with a separate bill to ban human cloning. The legislation allows scientists to work with existing ES cell lines and to create new lines from surplus in vitro fertilization embryos created before April 5, 2002. It also signals an end to a patchwork of state and territory rules.

The bill must yet gain final sign-off from the House of Representatives on 13 amendments passed by the Senate. Prime Minister John Howard said he expected them to pass when the bill returns to the house next week.

The amendments include more parliamentary scrutiny of research licences and a review of whether a national stemcell bank is required to keep stemcell lines in public hands.

In the US there is enough doubt about the continued legality of even privately funded embryonic stem cell research that it discourages private investment in ESC work.

A debate over the issue went nowhere in the U.S. Senate earlier this year. President George W. Bush and some members of Congress want to ban the research, while others, including some anti-abortion conservatives such as Utah Republican Orrin Hatch, would like to see it continue while banning the use of the technique to create a cloned human baby.

"It's been tied inappropriately to abortion politics, and as long as it remains tied to that issue, the hopes are dismal," Haseltine said.

Current U.S. policy strictly limits the amount of publicly funded research that can be done on embryonic stem cells. Private companies can do as they please but legislation being pushed by Kansas Republican Senator Sam Brownback and others would put an end to that, too.

In the US much of the legal action has shifted to the state level. While many states have been enacting laws that make cloning and ESC work illegal there is now a contra-trend in other states to explicitly allow ESC work.

Following California's lead, lawmakers in at least three other states will take up proposals next year to encourage research on stem cells taken from human embryos. The measures also would permit scientists to use cloning to produce human embryos for stem cell experiments.

More on the move of the fight to the state level.

Similar motives prompted California lawmakers to pass a measure this year supporting embryonic stem cell research, and Gov. Gray Davis signed the bill in September. The Biotechnology Industry Association, a trade group, sent the California law to its affiliates in 35 states and suggested they try to pass similar measures.

Stem cell researcher Dr. Evan Snyder has left Harvard for the Burnham Institute in La Jolla and one of the reasons he cited for the move is the California state law that supports ESC research.

California Gov. Gray Davis, meanwhile, signed a new law Sept. 22 that affirms the state's support of embryonic stem-cell research. That is another reason Snyder was encouraged to move to San Diego.

"I think the new law may go a long way toward making California a place that almost becomes a magnet for stem-cell biologists," he said.

Larry Goldstein, a professor of pharmacology at the University of California San Diego Department of Cellular and Molecular Medicine who lobbied for the state law, said the welcoming political climate could also bring research funding.

"If you're trying to attract private investment, it's more likely to come to a state where (stem-cell research) is legal than in a state where there's uncertainty," Goldstein said.

Christopher Reeve has been lobbying the New Jersey state legislature to pass a bill that authorizes embyronic stem cell research. The bill has made it out of a Senate committee and will now be considered by the full New Jersey Senate.

Although the bill does not provide for government funding, Reeve said it does give key assurances to pharmaceutical companies that might foot the bill.

"Pharmaceutical companies are not interested in going out on a limb with research money if they are afraid the work will be banned," Reeve said.

The Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee approved the bill Monday. It now heads to the full Senate.

A bill has been introduced into the Massachusetts legislature to explicitly legalize ESC research in Massachusetts.

If enacted, the bill would explicitly authorize the controversial research and allow the donation of embryos from fertility treatments for stem cell research.

The bill would also set up a government-administered fund to support stem cell research, to be headed by the state commissioner of public health.

If Congress moves to outlaw ESC work and cloning work then the battleground could move to the courts as it becomes a constitutional question of whether the federal law can trump state laws. It would be interesting to know what legal bloggers such as Eugene Volokh and Glenn Reynolds think would happen in the courts. Even if the states eventually won that battle while the battle was going on US industry would shy away from investing in ESC research. Though adult stem cell research would still proceed and ESC research in other species will also still get done.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2002 December 06 02:58 PM  Biotech Society

maurizio provenza said at February 6, 2003 7:48 AM:

L'Associazione per la libertà di ricerca scientifica " Luca Coscioni"

è favorevole alla clonazione terapeutica di linee cellulari, da embrioni in surplus o da trasferimento nucleare.

Maurizio Provenza
Dottore in medicina e chirurgia.
V.Tesoriere Associazione Luca Coscioni.

viva la California.
viva gli Stati Uniti d'America.
viva il diritto,la libertà,la democrazia.

Brooke said at April 16, 2003 11:53 PM:

Embyronic stem cells that are not being used, from abortions for example, should be allowed to be used for research. I dont think it is right to purposely create embryos for research, but I cant see the harm in using the wasted embryos. People say it's unethical and that this "blob" of cells has rights too, but what about abortions? They're legal and the human to be doesnt get a say as to whether they want to be exterminated or not. So let people who cant walk or have uncureable diseases have a chance! The people that are against it are healthy, but if they became paralysed tomorrow and embryotic reseach was their only hope, I wonder what their opinion would be be then??

Crispin said at May 27, 2004 10:44 PM:

I completely agree with Brooke I think the manufacturing of embryos is wrong. In fact I think it goes past wrong and becomes complete lunicy! The creation of potential humans to be a way of advancing the living is almost inconcievable to me. I also agree if people have the right to abort an embryo why should that embryo not be used in a productive way. It is productive to try and cure chronic diseases and other things that stem cells could cure if there is enough study and finance given to it. The main thing that I think is wrong with stem cell research is that it could quite possibly go too far and who knows what could happen then. Will we live in a world dominated by gene perfection or will we just use stem cells to cure disease and injury? I hope when stem cell power is harnessed it won't make the world a worse place to live in.

LeadButtons said at October 21, 2004 1:04 AM:

First off I think that both Crispin and Brooke and crackers for being against the creation of embryos for this scientific research. The embryo has no more rights then a goldfish. Everything has been donated so obviously the donors don't care? Do they? If they didn't I’m sure they wouldn't have donated. Secondly, embryo’s aside, this is the one medical advance that is going to revolutionize the world in which we live in. Their will be no more incurable disease’s. People will get better, get off treatments. Money will be saved, economies will rise. Gene perfection? Why not? Let their be perfection!

Kiel said at November 9, 2004 4:01 AM:

i think this all started with abortion. I a way abortion opened the door for other unethical advances in science. If abortion was illegal, this problem wouldn't even be an issue. We would totally disagree with this unethical problem. But i guess people think since we did that... it would be okay to do this... Even though we have the technology to do tons of great things we can't play the role of the Divine God.

Jaimi said at April 29, 2009 5:20 PM:

It's a womans right to chose whether she may have an abortion or not. That is great. We're not living in a narrow minded, arrogant, hypcrytically religious driven, archaic society. The feminist movement happened and people should recognise it. Also this research will have so many benefits which is no way attached to abortion

Taylor said at November 2, 2009 4:19 PM:

how can you say it isn't attatched to abortion? what makes a difference between an embryo and a full term baby? Both are living human organisms. The beggining of life has already taken affect for an embryo so why should we have the right to deny it the chance to become a human? We are not God and some things should be left alone. Why should we have the right to decide who lives and who dies regardless how old the human organism is? This research is unnessesary because of the breakthrough with adult stem cells, which doesn't require the destructuon of any living thing that has the potential to become a human.

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