Federal Funding for Stem Cell Research

The Policy

The Bush Administration’s August 2001 announcement limiting federal funding of embryonic stem cell research imposed severe restrictions on a promising form of research with the potential to cure devastating diseases and conditions including juvenile diabetes, Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, cancer, heart disease, spinal cord injury, and ALS.

The Bush Administration has allowed funding for what the National Institutes of Health (NIH) initially identified as over 70 embryonic stem cell lines, already in existence at the time of the decision, in six countries: Sweden, Australia, India, Israel, South Korea, and the United States. These lines have been developed from excess embryos created for in vitro fertilization with the consent of the donors and without financial gain – criteria established by President Bush.

Respected scientists, however, believe that there are far fewer than 70-plus published stem cell lines available for research use and that all of those lines are not viable or robust due to contamination. In fact, the NIH Stem Cell Registry lists 22 lines as currently available and shipping under the President's policy. Scientists, biotechnology companies and patient groups remain skeptical that the cell lines now available meet research needs. As a result, legislators continue to vocalize concerns about the President's policy and newspapers from around the country frequently editorialize about the need for the Administration to modify its policy so that research can proceed.

The Kirsch Foundation, as a member of the Coalition for the Advancement of Medical Research (CAMR) supports expanding the President's current policy. We have allocated substantial resources to support our position, by providing a $30,000 grant to American Society for Cell Biology (ASCB) in 2001 for lobbying activities, and $30,000 in grants in 2002, 2003 and 2004, and $25,000 in 2005 to CAMR as the lead organization on this issue. We have also been active participants in CAMR, with Susan Frank, the Foundation's President & CEO, serving currently as a board member and having served as an officer of CAMR. In these roles, the Foundation continues to actively monitor and engage in stem cell research policy developments taking place in Washington, D.C.

In March 2007, CAMR was recognized by Research!America with the “Paul G. Rogers Award” as an organization that has distinguished itself by its advocacy.

Congressional Activities

A majority of the current Congress favors a less restrictive embryonic stem cell research funding policy than the one favored by the President.

Over the past several years, the Coalition for the Advancement of Medical Research (CAMR) has spearheaded efforts urging President Bush to relax his current policy limiting federal funding for this critical research. Below is a chronology of events, starting with the most recent:

  • In 2007: On January 11, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 3 (the “Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act”) on a 253-174 vote. On April 11, the Senate passed its version of the legislation (S. 5) on a bipartisan 63-34 vote. The House then passed the newly combined bill (in the form of S. 5) on June 7 by a vote of 246-173. President Bush has promised to veto the legislation as he did in 2006, despite nearly 60% of Americans wanting him to sign the bill.

  • In 2006: H.R. 810, also known as “The Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act,” would have expanded the current policy to allow full federal funding of embryonic stem cell research. This bi-partisan legislation, passed by the House in 2005 (see below), was co-authored by Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT), Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA), Senator Gordon Smith (R-OR) and Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA).

    On July 18, 2006, the Senate voted 63-37 in support of H.R. 810 to expand the White House policy. The day after this historic vote, President Bush vetoed the bill as he had promised. “By issuing the first veto ever during his Presidency to shoot down [H.R. 810], President Bush once again ignored the will of the people and the best scientific expertise,” said CAMR.

    The day of the veto, the House of Representatives attempted unsuccessfully to achieve a 2/3 vote to overturn the veto.

  • In 2005: In a landmark vote on May 24, 2005, the U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation (H.R. 810) to expand federal stem cell policy, which had been introduced by Representatives Michael Castle (R-DE) and Diana DeGette (D-CO). The bill, with more than 195 co-sponsors, passed 238 to 194.

The bill called on the President to expand the current policy to allow federal funds to be used on stem cell lines derived after the original cut-off date of August 9, 2001. The bill further emphasized that federal funds could only be used on cell lines derived from excess fertilized eggs donated by in vitro fertilization clinics, and that the eggs had to be created solely for fertility purposes and would otherwise be discarded.

  • In 2004: On June 23, 2004, over 140 patient groups, universities and scientific organizations delivered a letter to President Bush urging him to expand his stem cell policy. At a press conference announcing the letter, U.S. Representatives Michael Castle (R-DE) and Diana DeGette (D-CO) presented their bi-partisan bill to alter the Administration's policy on stem cell research.

    In April 2004, over 200 members of the House of Representatives delivered an open letter to President Bush urging him to revise current restrictions for public funding of embryonic stem cell research. Supported by CAMR, Congressional representatives Michael Castle (R-DE), Diana DeGette (D-CO), Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R-CA), and Calvin Dooley (D-CA) led the signature gathering effort among their colleagues. And in June 2004, a similar bi-partisan letter from 58 Senators was sent to President Bush asking him to revise current stem cell policy. Senators Arlen Specter (R-PA), Tom Harkin (D-IA), Orrin Hatch (R-UT), Edward Kennedy (D-MA) and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) – all champions of stem cell research – led the Senate letter-writing effort. In addition, dozens of major newspapers around the country have editorialized in support of expanding the Administration's policy.

Read about the Foundation's role in past Congressional legislative activity on embryonic stem cell research.

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