US Senate bill would ban embryonic stem cell research we go again with people trying to ban funding of embryonic stem cell research.


Yes, including according to a new article from the Catholic News Agency.

Who is trying to get this ban? Some Republicans in The U.S. Senate.

I’ve wondered for years if the Trump Administration might take action against embryonic stem cell research in part because of the views of VP Mike Pence. But for a long time nothing has happened. I don’t know if the senators mentioned in the Catholic News piece are coordinating with the Trump Administration or Pence on this bill, but it seems reasonably likely.

From the article:

“Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), the sponsor of the legislation, said that the bill, the Patients First Act, “would encourage the use of adult stem cells for medical purposes,” an “ethical and effective alternative to embryonic stem cell research.”

“Medical breakthroughs achieved via stem cell research need not come at the expense of innocent life,” Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), a cosponsor of the bill, stated.

The bill would codify the Dickey-Wicker Amendment so it could impair other research as well.
It feels like deja vu all over again. It was almost 8 years ago exactly to the day that the lawsuit hoping to ban federal funding of embryonic stem cell research met its end in court. Are we going back there again? I hope not.
This bill certainly could have significance for CIRM’s effort to get another round of funding from us California voters. Even if the bill became law, it would not affect privately or state-funded research.
Sen. Wicker’s website has bullet points on what he hopes to achieve:
  • “Promote the creation of pluripotent stem cell lines without the creation of human embryos, or the destruction or discarding of, or risk of injury, to human embryos;
  • Intensify stem cell research that may result in an improved understanding of, or treatments for, diseases and other adverse health conditions;
  • Promote research and human clinical trials using stem cells that are ethically obtained and show evidence of providing clinical benefit for human patients;
  • Direct the National Institutes of Health to prioritize stem cell research that has the greatest potential for near-term clinical benefits given currently available evidence;
  • Reverse President Obama’s Executive Order 13505, which gave the Department of Health and Human services the authority to use embryonic stem cells in research; and
  • Codify the Dickey-Wicker Amendment prohibiting the use of federal funds for human embryonic stem cell research.”
The co-sponsors include “U.S. Senators Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., Roy Blunt, R-Mo., Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., Steve Daines, R-S.D., Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., and James Lankford, R-Okla.”
Time to write your senators!
Fortunately, such a bill would never pass The House, but you never know how things might go down on this front and the 2020 election is not that far away. Also, the Trump Administration might try to take some negative executive action here. They have halted fetal tissue research.
It’s puzzling that they would call the bill “Patients First”.  It doesn’t make sense to me as both adult and embryonic stem cell-based therapies have promise. We need both to help the most people. While it’s correct that scientists can make human pluripotent stem cells without using embryos in the form of IPS cells (and more rarely via cellular cloning), there are some areas of research where it just doesn’t make sense to ban embryonic stem cell work.

13 thoughts on “US Senate bill would ban embryonic stem cell research”

  1. Jeanne, what is your point exactly? Yes, we have hard choices to face once we acknowledge that we know that human embryos are living human beings. No one but you is suggesting the obtuse idea of allowing every frozen embryo to develop to term, even if everyone had a uterus or if we have developed ex vivo engineered ones. The depth of human caring and suffering around the issue of excess human embryos is quite profound. Some families thaw their children and give them funerals; and some mothers have their nascent children vaginally implanted for re-absorption. And you know that some embryos have been adopted and brought to term by adopting mothers. Given time and caring, more benevolent solutions can be found than the ones you suggest. The more important moral and ethical issue is to not continue producing excess human embryos for assisted reproduction, and certainly not for research or other purposes that are not in the interest of embryos. The present moral dilemma that you relate, created by scientists, itself does not justify the exploitation of the stored embryos for research, not even for research pronounced as done for future good. Utilitarian, pragmatic justification is a slippery ethic that leads to many moral trespasses against humanity for the selfish gain of a few.

    Nope, it was because of too much illegal, unethical, over-hyped, and misleading “human embryonic stem cell research.” Yes, please remember this! But also, not included in the law suit, good ol’ American racism played a role, too. Hard to say which, if either, was the greater factor responsible for unfair and illegal discrimination.



  2. Hi James- when I first started deriving hESC lines, I became concerned about the thousands of human blastocysts that were being destroyed because they were not chosen for implantation, or they were frozen, never to be used because the couple who generated them already had more children than they could raise.

    Back then, I would have conversations with people, usually women, who wanted to donate their embryos to science because the money it was costing them to keep them frozen forever could be used to buy food and clothing for the children they already had. They did not want them to be destroyed, which the IVF clinics would do if the bills weren’t paid.

    What would you want to be done with all of these embryos? There are more than 100,000 frozen embryos. There are not enough uteruses to nurture them all, even if most women weren’t busy having their own children. I suppose that if you had a uterus you would volunteer to rescue some of these embryos, but you’d be unusual.

    I appealed to Catholic charitable organizations to ask if they could pay for a liquid nitrogen freezer somewhere and take responsibility for these embryos. I talked to Jewish charities, and even appealed to IVF docs to start a foundation to store the embryos.

    No one was interested in maintaining a liquid nitrogen freezer for this purpose…forever. Perhaps you can come up with a plan to rescue those “human embryos [that] are living human beings”. Perhaps you can do something instead of expecting others to listen to you.

    By the way, many of us remember that you sued the NIH because you thought that the reason you weren’t getting grants was because the NIH was funding too much pluripotent stem cell research.

  3. James, my concern is that if there is a lot of bad feed back then stem cell research may be stopped. I had 3 ADSC treatments via IV some years ago and each about 15 months apart here in New Zealand. I had a serious heart attack with 2 cardiac arrests some 30+ minutes apart. There is no doubt that they helped me and my blood test results also confirmed that my heart and kidney function did improve. Maybe I am wrong but from my reading having younger stem cells used in any treatment is better than having old 70+ year old cells used. Well done in what you are doing but please fight for it to continue.

  4. David, if your reply was intended for me, that is not the case. I’m not a “stem cell critic.” My research for the past 20 years and now my biotech company focus on stem cell research and stem cell technologies. What I and others like me have opposed is ES cell research that is based on the death of human embryos. Most elected officials and even many medical research regulators did not understand the distinction between embryonic stem cell research and non-embryonic stem cell research during the early days of the controversy. Now many do; and certainly the regulators at FDA understand fully. Stem cell research is not under threat now, like “adult” (non-embryonic) stem cell research was during the period of unfounded hype around human ES cell research. Much of what objectors have done is provide this important information to persons on the street, especially FDA and government.


  5. Maybe if you and many of the other stem cell critics had not been so against stem cell treatment it would not have been pushed in-front of these people who are now trying to stop it. I know ES cell research is different to other research but for the man in the street (FDA and Government) it all comes under the same banner.

  6. Dear Admin:

    When science respects human life, including that of human embryos, science and the world will be better. Good out of the Trump administration is still good. Being anti-Trump for his transgressions is not a justification for endorsing the continuation of an immoral practice that pre-dates the Trump administration, having been promoted previously by liberal admired administrations like the Obama. The misapplication of science to justify research that requires the death of nascent persons is like the past misapplication of science to justify human slavery and racism, the latter which continues as a scourge in America today.

    James Sherley

    1. Dear James,
      As we’ve communicated over the years since the original court case, there are different opinions about when life begins and many reasonable people feel that it is not at conception or even after a few days with a blastocyst embryo of about 100 cells, from which ES cells are generally made.

      For instance, on the much later side of things, some folks feel it is when the fetus can survive outside the womb, some people or cultures believe it is at birth, others feel it is when there is a heart beat or coherent, distinctively human-like brain activity is consistently seen. Paul

      1. Paul, you sound like you are quoting the jurists who wrote the affirmative decision for Roe v. Wade. At a minimum, we in the profession of cell biology, and developmental cell biology in particular, should speak truthfully about what we know as scientists, no matter what our world view happens to be. Human embryos are living human beings, whether we value their human lives or not, whether we destroy them for research or not. There is no scientific basis for stating that human embryos and fetuses are anything other than living human beings. Obscuring this truth that we know is one of the worst crimes that scientists commit against humanity.


        [Ed, human embryos produced by SCNT (somatic cell nuclear transfer) are also living human beings. I’m surprised by Paul’s answer.]

        1. Truthfully, what I know as a scientist, is that life doesn’t magically start at birth, or conception or in between: the egg and sperm are also just as much alive. Recall much of the life on earth exists primarily in the haploid state, think club mosses, ferns, algae and fungi, not to mention all those bacteria. So to scientifically argue the legal rights of a fetus over a zygote or over a spermatozoa seems absurd. I could just as scientifically argue that a living person doesn’t become a human being until he or she reproduces and produces viable offspring; after all that at least incorporates a definition of species, a proven _human_ being. How one uses surplus embryos is a debate for the philosophers and legal scholars, based on the presumptions and history of society, not science. Scientists already know, have already demonstrated, that there is scientific value in studying surplus embryos, QED.

  7. I have 3 reactions: 1. My senators already understand the value of hESC research. I want to invite the senators sponsoring this to visit my lab and let me tell them what stem cell research is and what it really can do;

    2. I want to let these senators know what the FDA is doing to shut down the “adult stem cell” clinics and why;

    3. I want to remind people once more that it was George W. Bush who first ALLOWED human ES cell research to be funded by the federal government on August Reversing Obama will just reduce the number of approved lines back down to a very small number, but will not affect the funding decision itself.

    And also- I plan to celebrate on August 9, 2019 for the 18th anniversary of the US federal government funding human embryonic stem cell research!

    1. Jeanne, I have one reaction to your comment. It is to ask you to, please, be sure to also tell the Senators visiting your lab that you know that the embryos that will be destroyed for research are living human beings. Your research is a choice you make because you think that the human lives you may improve are of greater value than the many nascent human lives that are destroyed. I think we must value these humans of different age equally. When we under value and exploit any human, we lower respect and caring for all humans. There is a lot of this going on in our world. Saving the embryos will help us all.

      Let me add that the problems we are now trying to address in private stem cell clinics is not a justification for continued funding of human embryonic stem cell research. The “bad actors” in private stem cell clinics would be shooting embryonic stem cells into patients, too, if anyone thought they could provide any beneficial effects. And though they are rarely mentioned, there are some private and public stem cell clinics that are attempting to help patients while ensuring safe treatments.

      – James

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