Archive for Legislation
There was excitement, too, on Capitol Hill, in Washington DC, over the stunning new research, which appeared in the journal Nature just before the House of Representatives voted to loosen restrictions imposed by President Bush on funding for embryonic stem cell research. In any case it came too late to influence the passage of the bill, which failed to get the numbers required to override the expected presidential veto.Was it just a coincidence? Some legislators thought not. “It is ironic that every time we vote on this legislation, all of a sudden there is a major scientific discovery that basically says, ‘You don’t have to do stem cell research,'” says Democratic Caucus Chairman Rahm Emanuel. “Convenient timing,” said bioethicist Arthur Caplan.
However, the Washington Post consulted experts on probability. Happenstance — or an underhanded plot to sink the bill? Skulduggery by American opponents of stem cell research? By rival British researchers bent on world domination? The experts backed coincidence. “Papers are coming out about embryonic stem cells so regularly that the odds are going to be high that some will come out when Congress is voting on them,” says David Ropeik, a Harvard expert in risk assessment. ~ Washington Post, Jun 10
Opponents were scathing. Josephine Quintavalle, of the lobby group Comment on Reproductive Ethics, said bluntly: “It is appalling that the government has bowed to pressure from the random collection of self-interested scientists and change its prohibitive stance. This is a highly controversial and terrifying proposal, which has little justification in science and even less in ethics. Endorsement by the UK government will elicit horror in Europe and right across the wider world.”
The possibility of creating hybrid embryos was just one amongst many proposals which would have seemed radical when the 1991 decision was first made to permit embryo research and establish the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority. These include:
* A child can be created without a legal father, but two legal mothers. Children do not necessarily need a father in IVF procedures.
* Embryos can be screened for serious medical conditions.
* Eggs or sperm can be removed from incompetent persons without their consent.
* Not-for-profit surrogacy agencies will be able to charge reasonable expenses for organising surrogate mothers.
Although the list of procedures which the government proposes to legalise and regulate is long, a few are explicitly banned. Sex selection is still on the black list, as are artificial gametes, genetic modification of IVF embryos and deliberately selecting a disease or disorder (such as deaf parents choosing to have a deaf child). ~ BBC, May 17; Guardian, May 17
Pressure is growing on the British government to permit the creation of human-animal hybrid embryos for stem cell research. After a recent public consultation, it appears that the government is preparing to ban it, but there have been noisy protests from scientists and MPs. The Association of Medical Charities has sent a letter to Prime Minister Tony Blair signed by 223 medical foundations and patient groups.
Within Parliament, members of a science and technology select committee are giving hybrid embryos vigorous support. “Ministers have never provided a rational basis for their ban and their only supporters are pro-life groups and anti-science campaigners who oppose all embryo research,” says MP Evan Harris.
However, Josephine Quintavalle, director of Comment on Reproductive Ethics, said: “Despite the enthusiasm of this small committee, worldwide there is more opposition than support for the creation of such entities, and within the United Kingdom as well. The public should now demand an extensive and objective consultation at the highest democratic level, and by this we mean Parliament itself.” ~ BBC, Apr 5; AMC website
In response to international pressure, China has revised its regulations for organ transplants. The State Council, or Cabinet, has banned the sale of human organs for profit, donations by people under 18, and the use of organs without informed consent.
Chinese legislators have been pushing for new laws to regulate and promote voluntary donation to prevent abuses. However, the rate of voluntary donation is very low, due in part to a cultural bias against removing organs before burial. ~ Washington Post, Apr 7