Academic journal article The Journal of High Technology Law

Embryonic Stem Cells: Marrow of the Dickey Matter

Academic journal article The Journal of High Technology Law

Embryonic Stem Cells: Marrow of the Dickey Matter

Article excerpt

Cite as 11 J. High Tech. L. 160 (2010)

I. Introduction

In the United States there are currently over 100,000 people waiting for organ transplants, with only a fraction of those individuals actually receiving them. (1) Recent data shows there were only 14,140 transplants performed between January and June of 2010 and of those transplants only 7,136 recovered. (2) The low recovery rate is caused by immune responses in the recipient triggered by foreign cells and tissue which can lead to a rejection of the transplant tissue or organ. (3) One promising solution for meeting the demand of transplants is stem cell-based therapies, which could provide doctors with a renewable source of healthy cells and tissues to repair failing organs. (4) Not only could stem cell-based transplants meet the high demand of organ transplants, but the rate of transplant rejection could be decreased as well by reducing the recipient's immune response. (5)

The therapeutic potential of human embryonic stem cells (hESCs) is one of the many reasons why researchers are so motivated to work with various stem cell lines. (6) Unfortunately, with the controversy surrounding the destruction of the fetus for stem cells and the current restrictions on research involving embryos, there are limited stem cell lines available for testing. (7) The budget bill that funds the National Institute of Health (NIH) contains the restrictive language of the Dickey Amendment, prohibiting the use of federal funds for any research that subjects a human embryo to risk of injury or death. (8) The need to revise U.S. law, specifically the Dickey Amendment, is supported by existing data concerning stem cells, the therapeutic potential of cell-based therapies, and the success of Great Britain's administrative program, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA). (9)

This Note discusses the issues surrounding the United States' current research policy involving human embryos and the ensuing negative impact on stem cell research. The main thesis explores the differences between the United States and foreign legal policies concerning research on human embryos, analyzing how the variations affect the economic and scientific potential of stem cell therapies. It presents alternative legal guidelines that permit the use of embryos under specific circumstances, while accounting for the delicate ethical and moral issues involved with human embryonic stem cell research. Following these proposals is a discussion about the advantages of an administrative program similar to the HFEA, and the benefits of having this type of framework.

II. History

Embryonic stem cell research is one of many controversial issues currently dividing the United States. (10) One contention is that this type of science threatens the sanctity of human life by seeking to destroy the precious foundation of that life. (11) Another argument holds this area of research has seemingly limitless therapeutic potential and the ability to provide many people who are suffering with a better quality of life. (12) Because of the important ethical and traditional moral issues at stake, this topic has sparked a major political debate resulting in legal constraints that will have unfortunate economic and scientific consequences if not carefully analyzed. (13)

A. Stem Cell Research

In 1998, Dr. James Thomson from the University of Wisconsin first described the successful isolation of pluripotent stem cells from human embryos, launching the idea of stem cell research into the forefront of the scientific community. (14) Pluripotent stem cells are undifferentiated body cells, meaning they are without a characteristic structure or function and can differentiate into any type of cell. (15) This characteristic makes stem cells a valuable research tool; the therapeutic value lies in the cells' "degree of developmental plasticity," which varies depending on the type of stem cell. …

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