The History of Stem Cell Research in America
Reviewed by David Franklin, MD
The human body contains over 200 types of stem cells. They are like blank canvases waiting to be transformed. They are called undifferentiated cells because they do not work in a specific part of the body unless they are encouraged or induced to become specific cells. They also can wait in a dormant state.Stem cell research contains much potential to manage or cure diseases such as cancer, Parkinson’s disease or Alzheimer’s. These cells may also be used to grow healthy organs for transplants, eliminating the need to find a matching donor from a recently deceased person. But many people in America want to stop this type of cell research.What’s the Problem?People who are opposed to abortion are deeply opposed to using human embryonic cells for research because the cells “die.” Anti-abortionist or “pro-lifers” state that all forms of an unborn fetus deserve full legal protection. In the beginning of stem cell research, only embryonic stem cells from 4 or 5-day-old fertilized embryos were used, but in recent years stem cells have been discovered in other parts of the body. These are called non-embryonic or somatic cells, but they are not as good an embryonic cells.But in 1996, only embryonic cells were used in research. Laboratories received these fertilized cells from fertility clinics. In a usual in vitro fertilization technique, far more eggs are fertilized than are implanted into a mother to produce children. This is to ensure that at least one egg becomes a child. In 1996, the American Congress passed the Dickey-Wicker Amendment, which forbids any government money from funding research using human embryos.The George W. Bush AdministrationIn 2001, President George W. Bush announced that government money could be used to fund medical research projects on human embryos – as long as embryos were not made and ‘killed’ specifically for the project. But if a couple wished to donate their unused fertilized egg to a project, then those embryos could be used. This ruling damaged the Dickey-Wicker Amendment.But in 2006, President Bush vetoes a Congressional act to expand human embryo cell research. Congress tried, but failed to repeal this veto. Instead, Congress passed another bill that was nearly identical to the vetoed one in 2007, knowing a new President would approve it. Bush was at the end of his second term and could not run again for the Presidency. The Barak Obama AdministrationIn 2009, the first year of his presidency, President Barak Obama finally overturned the Dickey-Wicker Amendment by passing Executive Order 13505. This ruling was blocked by Chief Judge Royce C. Lamberth of Federal District Court in 2010. Since Lamberth openly supported members of Obama’s political enemies, the ruling was doomed and finally an appeals court killed Judge Lambert’s ruling in May of 2011. But this ruling may only be temporary. Opponents of stem cell research are pressing for an appeal.Meanwhile, research that could potentially save millions of lives was stalled for over 10 years. President Obama has repeatedly spoken of his support for stem cell research. Frustrating these plans have become easy for Obama’s political enemies. Unfortunately in America, medical research has taken a back seat to political agendas.