Federal Laws on Stem Cell Research

Those who stay current of the hot issues of today probably have read editorials and articles on the ethics of stem cell research. You may wonder why something with the potential to save so much human life has met with a great deal of protest. While some people blame the federal government for holding up stem cell research, it is the states who often are the biggest obstacle.

  1. History

    • The medical world predicted that certain cells in the body could renew some vital parts for decades, but it took Ernest A. McCulloch and James E. Till to finally prove the existence of stem cells in the early 1960s. McCulloch and Till discovered stem cells when researching the effects of radiation on military soldiers and observed that blood cells could form into different types.

    Why Is There Debate?

    • The best type of stem cell, the one that can essentially become any other type of cell, is found in human embryos, the stage of birth before a human becomes a viable fetus. Certain religions believe that human life begins at the time of conception, and since embryos can come from unnatural methods, this causes an ethical dilemma over whether one should use an embryo for medical testing. Essentially the fight is over the sanctity of life and when it begins.

    Federal Law

    • Federal law does not ban stem cell research but does put restrictions on the amount of funding and where stem cell researchers who accept federal funding may acquire their stem cell lines. At the turn of the century President George Bush approved stem cell research funding, but only for stem cells that existed before the announcement of federal funding.

    State law

    • While no federal law forbids stem cell research, some states ban the use of embryonic stem cells in clinical research. The opinions of states on stem cells varies greatly; some states such as California and New York appropriate funding, and some states such as South Dakota ban stem cell research all together. Even states that allow research can differ on where scientists may acquire stem cells and how they use them.


    • The potential that stem cell research offers medical science causes a great fervor because some of the most common and deadly diseases today such as cancer could be cured with such research. Scientists may even find a way to grow human organs and forgo the need for donation and matching. Thus, it is easy to see why some doctors fight tooth and nail for funding.

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