Senators Introduce Bill to Stop Federally Funded Embryonic Stem Cell Research

The Patients First Act would reverse President Barack Obama’s 2009 executive order that allowed for federally-funded research at NIH using embryonic stem cells.

(photo: Wikimedia (CC BY 3.0).)

WASHINGTON —  Senators have introduced legislation to stop federally-funded research at the National Institutes of Health using embryonic stem cells, and instead promote stem cell research not involving the destruction or damage of human embryos.

Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., the sponsor of the legislation, said that the bill, the Patients First Act, “would encourage the use of adult stem cells for medical purposes,” an “ethical and effective alternative to embryonic stem cell research.”

“Medical breakthroughs achieved via stem cell research need not come at the expense of innocent life,” Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., a cosponsor of the bill, stated.

The Patients First Act would reverse President Barack Obama’s 2009 executive order that allowed for federally-funded research at NIH using embryonic stem cells.

Previously, under the Bush administration, federal funding of embryonic stem cell research had been introduced but was limited to stem cell lines from embryos that had already been destroyed; no taxpayer dollars would fund research on new stem cell lines of living embryos, or the creation of new embryos.

The administration also directed federal funding of research on stem cells from other sources like umbilical cord placenta, and adult and animal stem cells. Obama’s executive order significantly expanded federally-funded embryonic stem cell research.

After a challenge was mounted to the Obama administration’s expansion of embryonic stem cell research, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ultimately upheld taxpayer funding of embryonic stem cell research in 2011, and the Supreme Court in 2013 declined to review a challenge to the ruling, allowing it to stand.

The 2008 Vatican document Dignitatis Personae states that “the obtaining of stem cells from a living human embryo…invariably causes the death of the embryo and is consequently gravely illicit.”

“Irrespective of efficacious therapeutic results,” the document goes on to add, such research “advances through the suppression of human lives that are equal in dignity to the lives of other human individuals and to the lives of the researchers themselves. History itself has condemned such a science in the past and will condemn it in the future, not only because it lacks the light of God but also because it lacks humanity”.

Pope Francis, in his 2017 remarks to patients with Huntington’s Disease and their families and caregivers, condemned the destruction of human embryos in research, saying that “we know that no ends, even noble in themselves, such as a predicted utility for science, for other human beings or for society, can justify the destruction of human embryos.”

Wicker’s bill would also codify the Dickey-Wicker amendment, a 1996 amendment authored by then-Congressmen Roger Wicker and Jay Dickey and signed into law by President Bill Clinton. That amendment forbade the use of NIH appropriations for the creation of human embryos for research, the destruction of embryos in research, or for the research to involve an unlawful level of harm of embryos.

Under the proposed new bill, the Secretary of HHS would also be directed to pursue medical research using stem cells or pluripotent stem cells, as long as they are not derived from the destruction or damage of human embryos, or from embryos created for research.

“Ethical science that respects the dignity of life is always the best science,” bill cosponsor Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith, R-Miss., stated. “This legislation establishes scientifically-sound policies that protect the sanctity of life while promoting promising stem cell research on better treatments and cures for many diseases.”

Cosponsors of the bill include Senators Roy Blunt, R-Mo., Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., Steve Daines, R-S.D., Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., and James Lankford, R-Okla.