A Strange Provision in Federal Stem Cell Bill

Posted by Jesse Reynolds March 22, 2010
Biopolitical Times
Rep. Diana DeGette

Earlier this month, Rep. Diana DeGette (D-CO) used the one-year anniversary of President Obama's loosening of federal embryonic stem cell research policy to once again introduce her bill on the matter. But because of Obama's actions, her Stem Cell Research Advancement Act of 2009 (HR 4808) would not significantly change current practice. Instead, it would codify Obama's Executive Order into law, making it more difficult to change in the future.

However, the bill also address reproductive cloning, in a surprising way. It would prohibit federal funding of the "conduct or support" of human reproductive cloning. Although on the face of it this seems like a step in the right direction, it makes little sense from a policy or political perspective.

In 1997, President Clinton enacted a similar ban on federal support for reproductive cloning. Although this policy has been called a moratorium, his statement contains no end date, nor have I been able to find a reference to one. Even if it has expired, reproductive cloning is so unpopular that any research on it would have to occur below the radar, and could hardly expect to be federally supported. Moreover, the US Food and Drug Administration already asserts that it has - and will exercise - the authority to stop work towards reproductive cloning (1, 2), regardless of the funding source.

Politically, this provision will not get new votes for the bill. The last time reproductive cloning was an issue, all members of Congress supported banning it (but some who opposed the creation of clonal embryos refused to vote to prohibit only reproductive cloning). What member who is on the fence with embryonic stem cell research would be swayed by a measure as timid as the one in this bill?

What's needed is a law prohibiting reproductive cloning. The FDA claim is tenuous and needs a better foundation. Furthermore, such a law would bring the US in line with nearly every other industrialized nation.

Previously on Biopolitical Times: