Polls regarding Embryonic Stem Cell Research in United States
In 1969, the first human in vitro fertilization was accomplished and in 1973, Roe v. Wade legalized abortion nationwide. These developments prompted the federal government to create regulations barring the use of federal funds for research that experimented on human embryos.
In 1995, the NIH Human Embryo Research Panel advised the Clinton administration to permit federal funding for research on embryos left over from in vitro fertility treatments and also recommended federal funding of research on embryos specifically created for experimentation.
In response to the panel's recommendations, the Clinton administration, citing moral and ethical concerns, declined to fund research on embryos created solely for research purposes, but did agree to fund research on left-over embryos created by in vitro fertility treatments.
At this point, the Congress intervened and passed the Dickey Amendment in 1995 (the final bill, which included the Dickey Amendment, was signed into law by Clinton) which prohibited any federal funding for the Department of Health and Human Services be used for research that resulted in the destruction of an embryo regardless of the source of that embryo.
In 1998, privately funded research led to the breakthrough discovery of Human Embryonic Stem Cells (hESC). This prompted the Clinton Administration to re-examine guidelines for federal funding of embryonic research.
In 1999, the president's National Bioethics Advisory Commission recommended that hESC harvested from embryos discarded after in vitro fertility treatments, but not from embryos created expressly for experimentation, be eligible for federal funding. Even though embryos are always destroyed in the process of harvesting hESC, the Clinton Administration decided that it would be permissible under the Dickey Amendment to fund hESC research as long as such research did not itself directly cause the destruction of an embryo.
Therefore, HHS issued its proposed regulation concerning hESC funding in 2001. Enactment of the new guidelines was delayed by the incoming Bush administration which decided to reconsider the issue. President Bush announced, on August 9, 2001 that federal funds, for the first time, would be made available for hESC research on currently existing stem cell lines; however, the Bush Administration chose not to permit taxpayer funding for research on hESC cell lines not currently in existence, thus limiting federal funding to research in which "the life-and-death decision has already been made".
The Bush Administration's guidelines differ from the Clinton Administration guidelines which did not distinguish between currently existing and not-yet-existing hESC. Both the Bush and Clinton guidelines agree that the federal government should not fund hESC research that directly destroys embryos. Neither Congress nor any administration has ever prohibited private funding of embryonic research. Public and private funding of research on adult and cord blood stem cells is unrestricted.
U.S. Congressional response
In April 2004, 206 members of Congress signed a letter urging President Bush to expand federal funding of embryonic stem cell research beyond what Bush had already supported.
In May 2005, the House of Representatives voted 238-194 to loosen the limitations on federally funded embryonic stem-cell research — by allowing government-funded research on surplus frozen embryos from in vitro fertilization clinics to be used for stem cell research with the permission of donors — despite Bush's promise to veto the bill if passed. On July 29, 2005, Senate Majority Leader William H. Frist (R-TN), announced that he too favored loosening restrictions on federal funding of embryonic stem cell research.
On July 18, 2006, the Senate passed three different bills concerning stem cell research. The Senate passed the first bill (Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act), 63-37, which would have made it legal for the Federal government to spend Federal money on embryonic stem cell research that uses embryos left over from in vitro fertilization procedures. On July 19, 2006 President Bush vetoed this bill. The second bill makes it illegal to create, grow, and abort fetuses for research purposes. The third bill would encourage research that would isolate pluripotent, i.e., embryonic-like, stem cells without the destruction of human embryos.
In 2005 and 2007, Congressman Ron Paul introduced the Cures Can Be Found Act, with 10 cosponsors.
With an income tax credit, the bill favors research upon nonembryonic stem cells obtained from placentas, umbilical cord blood, amniotic fluid, humans after birth, or unborn human offspring who died of natural causes; the bill was referred to committee. Paul argued that hESC research is outside of federal jurisdiction either to ban or to subsidize. Bush vetoed another bill, the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act of 2007, which would have amended the Public Health Service Act to provide for human embryonic stem cell research.
The bill passed the Senate on April 11 by a vote of 63-34, then passed the House on June 7 by a vote of 247-176. President Bush vetoed the bill on July 19, 2007.
Currently, the National Institutes of Health has 399 funding opportunities for researchers interested in hESC. In 2005 the NIH funded $607 million worth of stem cell research, of which $39 million was specifically used for hESC. Of the 514 currently recruiting clinical trials that are using stem cells as treatment, the federal government is supporting 206 of them; however, none of these trials are using hESC.
Sigrid Fry-Revere has argued that private organizations, not the federal government, should provide funding for stem-cell research, so that shifts in public opinion and government policy would not bring valuable scientific research to a grinding halt.