Ethics and Policy

Policy Timeline

Although scientists are just scratching the surface of what stem cells can do for medicine, presidents and policymakers have expressed concern for the pace and the direction of this research for more than a decade. Children’s is committed to being part of ongoing policy discussions and to advancing stem cell medicine in a manner that is ethical and morally responsible.

1994 – The National Institutes of Health convenes a Human Embryo Research Panel to draft up guidelines on ethical funding for research on human embryos. President Bill Clinton overrules the panel’s recommendation that funding be permitted for creating embryos for research, but agrees that funding can be used to study embryos leftover from in vitro fertilization (IVF) procedures.

1996 – Before the NIH gets the chance to approve any funding, Congress passes the Dickey Amendment (also known as the Dickey-Wicker amendment), which prohibits the use of federal funds for “the creation of a human embryo or embryos for research purposes” and “research in which a human embryo or embryos are destroyed, discarded, or knowingly subjected to a risk of injury or death greater than allowed for research on fetusus in utero.” This law effectively bans federal funding for the creation of new embryonic stem cell lines through nuclear transfer and parthenogenesis, as well as from donated IVF embryos. The Dickey Amendment has been renewed every year since.

2000 – The National Bioethics Advisory Commission, at the request of President Clinton, argues that the Dickey Amendment does not ban federal funding for research on embryonic stem cell lines, provided that federal funding does not pay for the actual process in which an embryo is destroyed to create those lines. Furthermore, the commission’s report argues for strict guidelines that require informed consent for embryo donation, require donor permission for use of unused embryos for research, and ban the buying and selling of embryos. This report is not legally binding, but reputable institutions, including Children’s, adopt similar guidelines.

August 9, 2001 – President George W. Bush signs an executive order authorizing federal funding only for research that experiments with preexisting stem cell lines. Scientists wishing to experiment on newer lines of stem cells must now seek other sources of funding.

March 9, 2009 – President Barack Obama signs an executive order lifting President Bush’s order limiting federal funding to embryonic stem cell lines created before August of 2001. President Obama’s order gives the NIH 120 days to create new guidelines on the ethical use of federal money for embryonic stem cell research.

March 11, 2009 – President Obama signs the Omnibus Appropriations Act of 2009, which includes a provision that essentially renews the Dickey Amendment’s ban on federal funding for processes creating stem cell lines from embryos. Though scientists will be able to receive federal funding for research using new, existing embryonic stem cell lines, they cannot get funding to create additional lines.

July 7, 2009 – The NIH issues its new guidelines on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research. These guidelines include provisions that cell lines eligible for funding must have been derived under strict criteria that include informed consent from individuals and couples donating IVF embryos. The guidelines still prohibit federal funding for research on cell lines created through nuclear transfer or parthenogenesis.

December 2, 2009 – The NIH deems 13 lines of human embryonic stem cells, the first under the new administration’s guidelines, eligible for research funding (11 of these 13 lines were created at Children’s). Any scientist wanting to conduct research on any of these cell lines can now apply for federal funding.

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