I’m taking it easy here in the fabulous Van Dusen mansion, a bed and breakfast where I’m staying tonight, and I thought I’d browse through the stem cell legislation that’s being considered in the senate right now. It’s strange: one substantive bill has come up from the House, and all of a sudden two more bills have been proposed on the floor of the Senate.
Here’s the interesting one. H.R.810: Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act of 2005, proposed by Congressman Mike Castle, a Delaware Republican who isn’t too thrilled with Bush’s promise to veto his bill, actually does something substantial. It makes available for research purposes any unused embryos from fertility clinics that were going to be discarded anyway, and that were explicitly donated to research without any financial remuneration. Why, that sounds sensible!
`SEC. 498D. HUMAN EMBRYONIC STEM CELL RESEARCH.
`(a) In General- Notwithstanding any other provision of law (including any regulation or guidance), the Secretary shall conduct and support research that utilizes human embryonic stem cells in accordance with this section (regardless of the date on which the stem cells were derived from a human embryo).
`(b) Ethical Requirements- Human embryonic stem cells shall be eligible for use in any research conducted or supported by the Secretary if the cells meet each of the following:
`(1) The stem cells were derived from human embryos that have been donated from in vitro fertilization clinics, were created for the purposes of fertility treatment, and were in excess of the clinical need of the individuals seeking such treatment.
`(2) Prior to the consideration of embryo donation and through consultation with the individuals seeking fertility treatment, it was determined that the embryos would never be implanted in a woman and would otherwise be discarded.
`(3) The individuals seeking fertility treatment donated the embryos with written informed consent and without receiving any financial or other inducements to make the donation.
`(c) Guidelines- Not later than 60 days after the date of the enactment of this section, the Secretary, in consultation with the Director of NIH, shall issue final guidelines to carry out this section.
`(d) Reporting Requirements- The Secretary shall annually prepare and submit to the appropriate committees of the Congress a report describing the activities carried out under this section during the preceding fiscal year, and including a description of whether and to what extent research under subsection (a) has been conducted in accordance with this section.’.
Passed the House of Representatives May 24, 2005.
This, of course, is the bill Bush has promised to veto. Using them for research that would elucidate basic mechanisms of development, might lead to new cures, and that actually advances science “would take us across a critical ethical line” that apparently is not crossed by allowing them to rot in a dewar or flushing them down a sink.
My only objection is that it doesn’t go far enough—the bill provides no funding, and in fact the federal funding ban on embryonic stem cell research still stands.
Meanwhile, the detestable Rick Santorum and his charming fellow travelers, Sam Brownback and Richard Burr, have introduced the S. 3504: Fetus Farming Prohibition Act of 2006 to deal with a serious issue.
SEC. 2. PROHIBITION OF THE SOLICITATION OR ACCEPTANCE OF TISSUE FROM FETUSES GESTATED FOR RESEARCH PURPOSES.
Section 498B of the Public Health Service Act (42 U.S.C. 289g-2) is amended–
(1) by redesignating subsections (c) and (d) as subsections (d) and (e), respectively;
(2) by inserting after subsection (b) the following:
`(c) Solicitation or Acceptance of Tissue From Fetuses Gestated for Research Purposes- It shall be unlawful for any person or entity involved or engaged in interstate commerce to–
`(1) solicit or knowingly acquire, receive, or accept a donation of human fetal tissue knowing that a human pregnancy was deliberately initiated to provide such tissue; or
`(2) knowingly acquire, receive, or accept tissue or cells obtained from a human embryo or fetus that was gestated in the uterus of a nonhuman animal.';
(3) in paragraph (1) of subsection (d), as so re-designated, by striking `(a) or (b)’ and inserting `(a), (b), or (c)'; and
(4) in paragraph (1) of subsection (e), as so redesignated, by striking `section 498A(f)’ and inserting `section 498A(g)’.
Oooh. It needs an anti-manimal clause, I think. This is a bill to make a bold strike against a non-existent problem, exactly the kind of thing the spineless poseurs in congress are best at handling. We can’t use new fertilized human embryos, period, so there really isn’t much of a market for fetus farming right now. The requirements of the first bill above would make this superfluous, too.
This is one Bush will let stand. It’s ineffective and useless.
The final bill is also straight from Santorum, cosponsored by Burr, Collins, Inhofe, and Specter, and is called S. 2754: Alternative Pluripotent Stem Cell Therapies Enhancement Act. It’s a little better than the second bill, since it actually endorses some research.
`SEC. 409J. ALTERNATIVE HUMAN PLURIPOTENT STEM CELL RESEARCH.
`(a) In General- In accordance with section 492, the Secretary shall conduct and support basic and applied research to develop techniques for the isolation, derivation, production, or testing of stem cells that, like embryonic stem cells, are capable of producing all or almost all of the cell types of the developing body and may result in improved understanding of or treatments for diseases and other adverse health conditions, but are not derived from a human embryo.
`(b) Guidelines- Not later than 90 days after the date of the enactment of this section, the Secretary, after consultation with the Director, shall issue final guidelines to implement subsection (a), that–
`(1) provide guidance concerning the next steps required for additional research, which shall include a determination of the extent to which specific techniques may require additional basic or animal research to ensure that any research involving human cells using these techniques would clearly be consistent with the standards established under this section;
`(2) prioritize research with the greatest potential for near-term clinical benefit; and
`(3) consistent with subsection (a), take into account techniques outlined by the President’s Council on Bioethics and any other appropriate techniques and research.
`(c) Reporting Requirements- Not later than January 1 of each year, the Secretary shall prepare and submit to the appropriate committees of the Congress a report describing the activities carried out under this section during the fiscal year, including a description of the research conducted under this section.
`(d) Rule of Construction- Nothing in this section shall be construed to affect any policy, guideline, or regulation regarding embryonic stem cell research, human cloning by somatic cell nuclear transfer, or any other research not specifically authorized by this section.
`(1) IN GENERAL- In this section, the term `human embryo’ shall have the meaning given such term in the applicable appropriations Act.
`(2) APPLICABLE ACT- For purposes of paragraph (1), the term `applicable appropriations Act’ means, with respect to the fiscal year in which research is to be conducted or supported under this section, the Act making appropriations for the Department of Health and Human Services for such fiscal year, except that if the Act for such fiscal year does not contain the term referred to in paragraph (1), the Act for the previous fiscal year shall be deemed to be the applicable appropriations Act.
`(f) Authorization of Appropriations- There is authorized to be appropriated such sums as may be necessary for each of fiscal years 2007 through 2009, to carry out this section.’.
Yes, we want support for alternatives, like adult stem cell research. It’s nice that they admit that these cells may be “capable of producing all or almost all of the cell types”, but I suspect that they want to emphasize the unsupported “all” rather than the more realistic “almost all.” Otherwise, it doesn’t seem to offer anything new that we aren’t already doing—it’s little more than a suggestion that those biologists carry on.
It doesn’t hurt to pass S. 3504 and S. 2754, except that these are obviously cynical, calculated attempts to deflect criticisms of the fact that Bush is going to pander to his fundamentalist base with his veto of the bill that actually improves our prospects for stem cell research. They allow him to put up a false front of supporting a promising new science while cutting it off behind the scenes.
Doesn’t it cast enough doubt on the value of S. 3504 and S. 2754 that they were proposed by that anti-science troglodye, Santorum?