Academic journal article Texas International Law Journal

Promoting Human Embryonic Stem Cell Research: A Comparison of Policies in the United States and the United Kingdom and Factors Encouraging Advancement

Academic journal article Texas International Law Journal

Promoting Human Embryonic Stem Cell Research: A Comparison of Policies in the United States and the United Kingdom and Factors Encouraging Advancement

Article excerpt

Abstract

Human embryonic stem cell (hESC) research has been touted for over a decade due to its potential to provide great improvements in healthcare, including finding cures for millions of people with debilitating and degenerative diseases. However, this research comes at a perceived moral price because it requires scientists to destroy embryos, the beginnings of human life. Newer scientific methods can be even more controversial because they involve creating embryos specifically for research purposes and mixing human and animal genes.

Nations have divided sharply in their approaches toward allowing, funding, and regulating various aspects of hESC research. The United States takes a conservative approach, allowing moral concerns to drive much of its policy. The current framework in the United States involves a decentralized system, with little regulatory control and high uncertainty. In contrast, the United Kingdom employs a more progressive approach and utilizes an extremely centralized, highly regulated system for hESC research, funded entirely by the government.

While the United States persists in an arena of political and scientific uncertainty, the United Kingdom forges ahead, furthering scientific progress in this field. Studying the differences between these two systems helps identify the factors that allow the United Kingdom to advance this highly promising research at a faster rate.

This article discusses the political and regulatory structures for hESC research in both the United States and the United Kingdom. It then explores some of the possible reasons for the differences in these structures. While it is not plausible to wholly adopt the U.K. format in the United States, this paper advocates emulating some of the United Kingdom's techniques to keep the United States competitive and encourage scientific advancement.

I. INTRODUCTION

Research on human embryonic stem cells (hESCs) holds immense potential to provide improvements in healthcare by furthering cellular developmental understanding;1 developing transplantable tissues; and finding cures for millions of people with debilitating and degenerative diseases such as Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, multiple sclerosis, spinal cord injuries, and heart disease.2 However, the controversial ethical nature of the scientific methods involved draws intense scrutiny and debate from policymakers as well as from the general public.3 Nations across the globe have reacted with widely divergent levels of tolerance and support of this tremendously promising but, for many, ethically disconcerting research.4

Because of the universal goal to find cures for devastating diseases, hESC research creates an arena for international competition.5 Advancements by progressive nations put pressure on international policymakers to adopt similar workable policies.6 Otherwise, the fear is that scientists, researchers, and biotechnology firms will respond to relatively restrictive regulations by moving to countries more favorable to research.7 Countries with advantageous regulation and funding will draw the top scientists and researchers, leading these countries to "become the producers," while "other nations will simply become their customers."8 The United Kingdom in particular has become a world leader in its advancement of hESC research.9 But while the United States has shown considerable support for hESC research, the lack of a consistent and uniform federal policy encouraging this research could keep the United States from realizing its potential in this field.10

II. STEM CELL RESEARCH: ETHICAL CONTROVERSY

The debate over hESC research has traditionally focused on the ethical controversy over embryo destruction.11 Although stem cells can be derived from several sources,12 hESC research is currently believed to be the most promising.13 However, research using hESCs necessarily involves the destruction of a human embryo, terminating the potential for life in the developing organism. …

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