What is Stem Cell Policy?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Stem cell research is an issue of great controversy. To some stem cells are the new future: a way to cure diseases, regenerate damaged tissue and possibly to perfect cloning methods for organs, other parts of the body, or whole persons. The complexity of human beliefs that lead to system cell policy is immense. Many suffering from incurable, degenerative diseases urge governments to give researchers a free hand with any type of stem cells obtained, and others are just as strongly opposed to using stem cells, particularly those derived from embryos, for anything. Governments, either at the behest of their constituents or alone, must create a stem cell policy.

Typically, embryonic cells used in research are the by-product of fertility treatments.
Typically, embryonic cells used in research are the by-product of fertility treatments.

It could be said then, that stem policy is any governmental policy deciding precisely what actions may or may not be used to derive cells, experiment with them, or produce from them. Sometimes these policies have a dual nature. They don’t ban certain forms of experimentation with some types of cells, but they won’t fund it either. This allows private industries to fairly freely function, but it may keep some researchers from performing experiments because they lack funding.

The majority of problems that influence policy involve embryonic stem cell research. Statistically, people have much less difficulty with the idea of the conscious donation of stem cells by adults or through cord blood donation. Embryos usually die if stem cells are extracted, though this is changing. Even if those embryos are slated to be discarded, as are many frozen embryos created during fertility treatment, many people feel that this is a human life, which has rights and does not deserve exploitation. There is furthermore concern about the issue of creating embryos in order to extract stem cells, and there is greater consensus on this that it cross moral bounds.

Thus a government must decide exactly what it allows and forbids when it comes to stem cell policy. Permission to experiment with stem cells to some degree is available in many large countries, include the US, Russia, China, Iran virtually all of western Europe and both Australia and New Zealand. For the most part, each country determines level of funding, if any, that will support such research, and determines at what point research must not continue. For instance, most countries have bans on various forms of cloning, and many may have to define if they can fund research on a stem cell line that was not derived in a way formerly in keeping with stem cell policy. There are truly complex decisions to be made.

In addition to any countrywide decisions, there may be certain stem cell policy created by International organizations. Organizations like the United Nations are sometimes called upon to institute bans or other policies to which their members would have to adhere. Scientific companies or groups of scientists may also have clearly delineated policies about what any employee, member or subsidiary may or may not do in regard to research.

Some countries may lack the wherewithal to fund any form of stem cell research. In others, the issue mostly concerns morality and the interpretation of the embryo, even if a few days old, as human life. It is not surprising that many countries identified as strongly Catholic have stem cell policy that primarily forbids the practice in most of its forms. This is not true in all cases, and some notable exceptions exist.

Perhaps the most important element for researchers is knowing what policy exists, based on country affiliation, its affiliation with other countries, and beliefs of any employers or scientific organization to which a person belongs. These policies are usually fairly implicit and easy to find, helping people to comply with what laws exist or work to change them if they don’t agree with them.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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