In collaboration with University of Wisconsin physician-scientists, Thomson has subsequently demonstrated the developmental potential of human embryonic stem cells in lineage-specific differentiation, such as blood, trophoblast, neural tissue and heart (James). Currently his focus is directed on understanding how embryonic stem cells can "form any cell in the body, how an ES cell chooses between self-renewal and the initial decision to differentiate, and how a differentiated cell with limited developmental potential can be reprogrammed to a pluripotent cell" (James).
Also of concern are issues of privacy and confidentiality. A woman donating her embryo or fetus to research may fear that the DNA that could exist indefinitely in these sources might one day be traced back to her, thereby revealing her identity and her association with the fertility clinic (Young). For example, if the fetus is obtained via an abortion, whether it can be genetically traced back to the donor plays a critical role in a woman's decision of whether or not to donate to research (Young). She might fear that the results of genetic tests could somehow be traced to her, and that such information might find its way to her employer or insurer (Young). The issues of privacy and confidentiality can create quite a dilemma. For example, doctors much now consider a woman's right 'not to know' any diseases or illnesses she might potentially develop or pass on to her children. This problem can be solved by researchers and doctors obtaining a donor's informed consent and "taking particular care to inform the donor of any potential privacy risks" (Young). Yet, informed consent comes with it own set ethical problems. For example, some lawmakers suggest that consent be obtained from at least three separate sources: the mother, father and any recipient of stem cell products (Young). Others debate over the definition of 'informed' and how much information should be given to either party.
In August 2001, President Bush decided to allow funding for research on stem cell lines that were already in existence as of August 9, 2001, and required that lines must have been derived "with the informed consent of the donors; from excess embryos created solely for reproductive purposes; and without any financial inducements to the donors" (Stevens). In other words, federal government will fund research using existing qualified embryonic stem cell lines, but will not fund the creation of new stem cell lines or any research performed on those lines (Stevens). Furthermore, the federal government has also agreed to fund research on "umbilical cord, placenta, adult, and animal stem cells" (Stevens). Bush's policy does not affect privately funded embryonic stem cell research, thus private research is exempt from Bush's restrictions. Two issues of concern arise from Bush's policy. One concern is that private funding may not be sufficient, since biotechnology research requires more capital than other entrepreneurial industries (Stevens). Another concern is that under Bush's policy, "embryonic stem cell research in the private sector is not subject to federal monitoring or ethical requirements," which may place the U.S. In a disparate position internationally (Stevens).
In January 2001, Great Britain became the first nation to pass a law allowing limited human cloning for the purpose of cloning stem cells from human embryos, however human cloning remains illegal and any embryo involved in stem cell research cannot be used after fourteen days (Stevens). Australia bans human cloning but allows human stem cell cloning for medical research, while Israel has no law regulating stem cell research (Stevens). As of 2000, China allows embryonic stem cell research for treatment and prevention of disease as long as such research is rational and effectively monitored, and in 2001, Japan approved strict guidelines which states that "embryonic cells used in research would be taken only from those made for fertility treatment that would otherwise be discarded," and like the U.S., Japan has also placed a ban on human cloning research (Stevens). Canadian scientists are allowed to use excess embryos from fertility clinics with donor consent, but are prohibited from creating embryos solely for research purposes, while German law restricts laboratory use of embryos to in vitro fertilization only (Stevens).
Stem cell research has the potential of developing treatment for some of the most serious medical conditions, such as cancer, spinal cord injuries, and birth defects. While some oppose any type of stem cell research, others oppose only the use of embryonic stem cells but support stem cells derived from adults (such as from bone marrow), from umbilical cords, and from animals. Experts emphasize the need for adequate federal and international uniformity concerning the regulation of embryonic stem cell research to avoid potential abuse.
James A. Thomson." University of Wisconsin. Retrieved November 15, 2006 at http://ink.primate.wisc.edu/~thomson/jamie.html
Seely, Ron. "Stem Cell Work Sets Him Apart Pioneering Research Puts UW-Madison
Scientist James Thomson in the National Spotlight." Wisconsin State Journal (Madison, WI). December 30, 2001. Retrieved November 15, 2006 from HighBeam Research Library.
Stem Cell Information." The National Institutes of Health. Retrieved November 15, 2006 from: http://stemcells.nih.gov/info/basics/basics1.asp
Stevens, Denise. "Embryonic stem cell research: will President Bush's limitation on federal funding put the United States at a disadvantage? A comparison between U.S. And international law." Houston Journal of International Law. March 22, 2003. Retrieved November 15, 2006 from HighBeam Research Library.
Young, Cynthia Donley. "A comparative look at the U.S. And British approaches to stem cell research." Albany Law Review. March 22, 2002. Retrieved November 15, 2006 from HighBeam Research…