The ethical thicket that is stem cell research just got a little more complex. New York became the first state to allow taxpayer-funded researchers to pay women to donate eggs specifically for stem cell experiments.
“Stripped” human oocyte; granulosa cells that had surrounded this oocyte have been removed. Courtesy: RWJMS IVF Laboratory via Wikimedia Commons
The compensation could run as high as $10,000. Supporters argue it will spur better, quicker research results. Opponents say paying for eggs crosses an ethical line.
The state board that made the new policy says it’s just like compensating women for donating eggs for reproductive purposes. But the National Academy of Sciences doesn’t see it that way, saying in its guidelines for stem cell research that payment to donors for eggs is a no-no.
Some scientists in the field say the main source now — eggs left over from in vitro fertilization procedures — hasn’t been adequate. (New York won’t pay for those eggs under the new policy anyway.)
Scientists outside New York are already envious. Harvard stem cell researcher George Q. Daley, told The New York Times, the payment policy “will mean a tremendous advantage” for labs in New York.
On the same day that Health Journalism 2009 featured a panel on “Second wind for stem cell research,” The National Institutes of Health issued draft guidelines to allow government funding for stem cell research.
Lawrence Goldstein, Ph.D., a stem cell researcher with the University of California San Diego and a member of the board of the International Society for Stem Cell Research, and Chuck Murry, M.D., Ph.D., co-director of the University of Washington’s Institute for Stem Cell and Regenerative Medicine, commented on the executive order, as well as on the chilling effects of President Bush’s order that limited stem cell research.
Read about what the researches said about the order and the future of stem cell research.
In the Columbia Journalism Review, Katherine Bagley urges journalists to use caution when reporting the results of medical studies, citing reports on a recent study on the effectiveness of using stem cells to halt or even reverse multiple sclerosis as an example.
Done with caution and a critical eye, coverage of limited but promising research can provide a needed dose of optimism for people with MS and their families. Unfortunately, in this case, that journalistic prudence was almost totally missing.
Bagley said that, through over-the-top reporting and selective coverage of the small-scale control-free study had inspired false hope and misled readers.
President Barack Obama is expected today to overturn the Bush-era policy that restricted federal funding of embryonic stem cell research. In his official agenda that lays out his positions on issues, Obama said he would “support increased stem cell research. Allow greater federal government funding on a wider array of stem cell lines.”
When stem cells like these human embryonic stem cells divide, each new cell has the potential to remain a stem cell or become a cell with a more specialized function, such as a muscle cell or a red blood cell.
Photo: National Institutes of Health
Terri Somers of The San Diego Union-Tribune wrote an article for AHCJ about covering stem cells that includes background on the science, politics and global competition of stem cell research. AHCJ also has a presentation from Zach W. Hall, former president of the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, that looks at stem cell research in that state. And Al Tompkins at the Poynter Institute provides some background and links on stem cells.
According to Chris Cillizza of The Washington Post, Obama will sign an executive order that will allow study of a broader group of stem cell lines. Cillizza looks at some of the politics surrounding the issue, as well as polls that attempt to measure Americans’ position on stem cell research. The New York Times reports that Obama is leaving some of the more difficult questions about stem cell research to Congress to resolve, such as “whether taxpayer dollars should be used to experiment on embryos.”
Arthur Caplan, Ph.D., director of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania, writes that “This reversal of former President George W. Bush’s ban on such funding is good news for the science needed to find treatments for currently incurable conditions and for the ethics at stake in the issue.”