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BACKGROUNDER: White House fact sheet recaps president’s stem cell decision

EDITORS’ NOTE: The following document was released Aug. 9 by the White House and is titled, “White House Fact Sheet [on] Embryonic Stem Cell Research.”

WASHINGTON (BP)–“As a result of private research, more than 60 genetically diverse stem cell lines already exist. … I have concluded that we should allow federal funds to be used for research on these existing stem cell lines where the life and death decision has already been made. … This allows us to explore the promise and potential of stem cell research without crossing a fundamental moral line, by providing taxpayer funding that would sanction or encourage further destruction of human embryos that have at least the potential for life.”
— George W. Bush

— Federal funding of research using existing embryonic stem cell lines is consistent with the President’s belief in the fundamental value and sanctity of human life. The President’s decision reflects his fundamental commitment to preserving the value and sanctity of human life and his desire to promote vital medical research. The President’s decision will permit federal funding of research using the more than 60 existing stem cell lines that have already been derived, but will not sanction or encourage the destruction of additional human embryos. The embryos from which the existing stem cell lines were created have already been destroyed and no longer have the possibility of further development as human beings. Federal funding of medical research on these existing stem cell lines will promote the sanctity of life “without undermining it” and will allow scientists to explore the potential of this research to benefit the lives of millions of people who suffer from life destroying diseases.

— Federal funds will only be used for research on existing stem cell lines that were derived: (1) with the informed consent of the donors; (2) from excess embryos created solely for reproductive purposes; and (3) without any financial inducements to the donors. In order to ensure that federal funds are used to support only stem cell research that is scientifically sound, legal, and ethical, the NIH will examine the derivation of all existing stem cell lines and create a registry of those lines that satisfy this criteria. More than 60 existing stem cell lines from genetically diverse populations around the world are expected to be available for federally-funded research.

— No federal funds will be used for: (1) the derivation or use of stem cell lines derived from newly destroyed embryos; (2) the creation of any human embryos for research purposes; or (3) the cloning of human embryos for any purpose. Today’s decision relates only to the use of federal funds for research on existing stem cell lines derived in accordance with the criteria set forth above.

— The President will create a new President’s Council on Bioethics, chaired by Dr. Leon Kass, an expert in biomedical ethics and a professor at the University of Chicago, to study the human and moral ramifications of developments in biomedical and behaviorial science and technology. The Council will study such issues as embryo and stem cell research, assisted reproduction, cloning, genetic screening, gene therapy, euthanasia, psychoactive drugs, and brain implants.


— Embryonic stem cells. Embryonic stem cells, which come from the inner cell mass of a human embryo, have the potential to develop into all or nearly all of the tissues in the body. The scientific term for this characteristic is “pluripotentiality.”

— Adult stem cells. Adult stem cells are unspecialized, can renew themselves, and can become specialized to yield all of the cell types of the tissue from which they originate. Although scientists believe that some adult stem cells from one tissue can develop into cells of another tissue, no adult stem cell has been shown in culture to be pluripotent.

— The potential of embryonic stem cell research. Many scientists believe that embryonic stem cell research may eventually lead to therapies that could be used to treat diseases that afflict approximately 128 million Americans. Treatments may include replacing destroyed dopamine-secreting neurons in a Parkinson’s patient’s brain; transplanting insulin-producing pancreatic beta cells in diabetic patients; and infusing cardiac muscle cells in a heart damaged by myocardial infarction. Embryonic stem cells may also be used to understand basic biology and to evaluate the safety and efficacy of new medicines.

— The creation of embryonic stem cells. To create embryonic stem cells for research, a “stem cell line” must be created from the inner cell mass of a week-old embryo. If they are cultured properly, embryonic stem cells can grow and divide indefinitely. A stem cell line is a mass of cells descended from the original, sharing its genetic characteristics. Batches of cells can then be separated from the cell line and distributed to researchers.

— The origin of embryonic stem cells. Embryonic stem cells are derived from excess embryos created in the course of infertility treatment. As a result of standard in vitro fertilization practices, many excess human embryos are created. Participants in IVF treatment must ultimately decide the disposition of these excess embryos, and many individuals have donated their excess embryos for research purposes.

— Existing stem cell lines. There are currently more than 60 existing different human embryonic stem cell lines that have been developed from excess embryos created for in vitro fertilization with the consent of the donors and without financial inducement. These existing lines are used in approximately one dozen laboratories around the world (in the United States, Australia, India, Israel, and Sweden).

— Therapies from adult and embryonic stem cell research. To date, adult stem cell research, which is federally-funded, has resulted in the development of a variety of therapeutic treatments for diseases. Although embryonic stem cell research has not yet produced similar results, many scientists believe embryonic stem cell research holds promise over time because of the capacity of embryonic stem cells to develop into any tissue in the human body.

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