House Committee Rejects Embryonic Stem Cell Measure Opposed by AAAS
A committee of the U.S. House of Representatives late Thursday defeated a proposed measure that would have withheld all National Institutes of Health (NIH) funding from research institutions involved in research on stem cells derived from cloned embryos.
"This measure would have been a disaster for biomedical research in the United States," Albert H. Teich, AAAS director of Science and Policy, said Friday. "We are pleased that committee recognized its potential danger and rejected the Weldon Amendment."
In a letter before the vote to members of the House Appropriations Committee, AAAS CEO Alan Leshner had urged defeat of the measure. Penalizing institutions and researchers involved in cutting-edge fields such as molecular biology, cancer and neuroscience "would be shortsighted and delay advances in many areas of science," wrote Leshner, who also is executive publisher of Science.
The measure was introduced by Rep. David Weldon (R-Fla.) as an amendment to a House bill to fund health and education programs. The amendment proposed to cut off all NIH funding "to any state, or to any program, agency, or institute of any state or local government or subdivision thereof, or to any Federal agency or program, or to any corporation, educational institution, or other entity…engaged in or funding human cloning, or engaged in or funding research utilizing all or part of any cloned human embryo or other human clone."
Though still in its early phases, embryonic stem cell research is widely seen by researchers, the medical community and patient-advocacy groups as holding enormous promise for treatments on a range of debilitating conditions, from diabetes and spinal cord injuries to Parkinson's Disease and many types of cancer.
Embryonic stem cells are best derived from embryos in their earliest stages, just a few days old and perhaps a hundred cells. The cells can be derived from embryos left over from in vitro fertilization processes. But scientists are also making progress with a process known as "research cloning" or "therapeutic cloning" in which human eggs are triggered into growing into embryos in a petri dish without ever being fertilized by sperm.
Members of the Appropriations Committee rejected the Weldon amendment on a 36-29 vote.
In his letter, Leshner wrote that all responsible scientists agree that human reproductive cloning should not be pursued. Indeed, a resolution approved by the AAAS Board of Directors in February 2002 called for "a legally enforceable ban on efforts to implant a human cloned embryo for the purpose of reproduction."
But the resolution supported "stem cell research, including the use of nuclear transplantation techniques (also known as research or therapeutic cloning), in order to realize the enormous potential health benefits this technology offers."
Approval of the Weldon measure "would be tantamount to a law banning research cloning by anyone in this country," Leshner wrote to the Appropriations Committee. "It could force this vital research out of the United States and seriously impede the progress of scientific advances to improve human welfare."
Leshner's letter was quoted in a story in the Washington Post. Read the full text of Alan Leshner's letter here.
16 June 2005