Unlike many other countries, the United States has no federal restrictions on cloning. Scientists can clone human embryos as much as they want, provided they have the human eggs to do it, and in many states they could transfer those embryos to a female volunteer if they wanted.
The only thing that we have in the U.S. are funding restrictions. The very important Dickey-Wicker Amendment, a rider on the Omnibus Appropriations Act, prohibits any federal funding from going to research where human embryos are created or destroyed. This means that the National Institutes of Health (NIH), a major source of funding for research in this country, cannot fund cloning research.
So the researchers in Oregon who where the first to successfully clone multiple embryos and extract embryonic stem cell lines did so with funds not provided by you, the American taxpayer.
While an outright ban on all somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT) or other means of asexual reproduction in humans is preferred, those funding restrictions are the finger in the dike, preventing many other researchers who depend on federal funds from trying to replicate the “breakthrough” or even from examining the stem cell lines created by cloning and killing human embryos.
These restrictions make some researchers very upset because they would like to get into the cloning game. From Nature:
The announcement last month of a long-awaited breakthrough in stem-cell research — the creation of stem-cell lines from a cloned human embryo — has revived interest in using embryonic stem cells to treat disease. But US regulations mean that many researchers will be watching those efforts from the sidelines.
The US National Institutes of Health (NIH), which distributes the majority of federal funding for stem-cell research, prohibits research on cells taken from embryos created solely for research — a category that includes the six stem-cell lines developed by Shoukhrat Mitalipov, a reproductive-biology specialist at the Oregon Health and Science University in Beaverton, and his colleagues.
Also, the California Institute of Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), a body created by Proposition 71 in California which gives millions of tax-payer dollars to stem cell research, including the cloning of embryos, cannot fund work with these cell lines either. CIRM restricts funding for any research where women are paid for “donating” their eggs as a precaution against exploitation. The eggs the Oregon team used were procured by paying young, cash-strapped women:
Mitalipov’s cell lines are also off limits to researchers funded by the California Institute of Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), which was created in part to support stem-cell work that is restricted by the NIH. CIRM funds cannot be used for studies that pay women for their eggs or rely on cell lines produced using eggs from paid donors. That rules out Mitalipov’s lines, because his team paid egg donors US$3,000–7,000 each, says Geoffrey Lomax, senior officer to the standards working group at CIRM, which is based in San Francisco.
The result of these funding restrictions is that very few researchers in the U.S. can even touch these stem cell lines or try and clone more embryos:
The end result, says Mitalipov, is that a dozen or so universities are struggling to negotiate ‘material transfer agreements’ to receive the new cell lines without running afoul of CIRM or the NIH. Interest in the new cell lines is high, especially since the identification of errors in images and figures in Mitalipov’s research paper shortly after its publication in Cell. But regulations would require laboratories to use only dedicated, privately funded equipment to study the new cells, a condition that only a few researchers — such as George Daley, a stem-cell expert at Boston Children’s Hospital in Massachusetts — will be able to meet.
That concerns Daley, who calls the NIH stem-cell policy “a frustrating limitation that will preclude federal dollars being used to ask many important questions” about how Mitalipov’s cell lines compare with induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS), which are created by reprogramming adult cells to an embryonic state. “Most labs will take the path of least resistance and continue working with iPS cells unless someone shows that there is a clear and compelling reason to change course,” Daley says.
The upshot? Voting pro-life is not just about abortion. The Dickey-Wicker Amendment at the federal level, California’s law restricting funds for research where women are paid for their eggs and other such funding restrictions in other states are critical for preventing the explosion of cloning-and-kill research. California is already dangerously close to repealing the law that prevents payments for eggs.
We desperately need legislators at the state and federal levels that see that tax-payer money should not be going to fund or support research that creates and destroys human life.
Rebecca Taylor blogs at Mary Meets Dolly