While stem cell research is widely recognised and funded in the United Kingdom (UK), policies and efforts in other parts of the world vary a great deal.
Stem cell policies specifically for UK research are covered in depth in the article titled Policies for Stem Cell Research. It’s interesting to note the different approaches to stem cell research, which are often vastly different even in westernised nations. Also, those nations with a strong religious presence, particularly Roman Catholic, tend to be less supportive of stem cell research, if not adamantly opposing its progress.
The United States (U.S.) generally limits the release of federal funding for embryonic stem cell research. Instead, it supports a small number of pre -2001 stem cell lines produced from embryos leftover following in vitro fertilisation. It does not, however, prevent private funding nor does it limit and regulate state and local funds.
Canadian laws are somewhat flexible in the field of stem cell research. In 2005, a boost of just over 5 million dollars was directed to support experiments investigating the use of adult stem cells to replace damaged cells in the heart, lungs or blood vessels. Those embryos that are leftover from failed in vitro fertilisation may be used but therapeutic cloning is not allowed. Canadian policy is such that any embryo created with the purpose to utilise stem cells, which is then destroyed after stem cell extraction, is unacceptable.
European Union (EU)
Although the EU does not directly fund stem cell research that results in embryonic destruction, it does still fund other stem cell research areas. Once independently approved and deemed ethically acceptable, funds are directed to the appropriate source.
Within Europe, policies do still vary and the majority of stem cell research is funded nationally, with the primary funding focus allotted to adult stem cells rather than embryonic. Top supporters of stem cell research include the UK, Sweden and Belgium.
South Korea has made strong advancements in stem cell research, due to very flexible policies regarding research. These policies are not supported by all nations though and South Korea’s advancement may essentially propel the nation to the forefront of stem cell research. South Korean researchers have been able to rapidly and successfully produce stem cells that are a perfect genetic match to patients of all races, genders and so forth. Their progress in therapeutic cloning means they can efficiently produce stem cells tailored to the individual and with a low risk of immunological rejection.
Germany, Austria and Italy
Policies regarding stem cell research in these countries are much stricter. Research involving embryonic stem cells is either prohibited or severely restricted. In fact, it was in 2006 that Germany pushed for a ban on all embryonic stem cell research in the EU, immediately after the U.S. shot down a bill set to extend such research. Whether Germany’s actions were directly prompted by the U.S. is debatable but certainly, policies in one nation can have an enormous impact on those of another.
Australian policies are comparatively relaxed from an international standpoint. Recent laws have been approved for therapeutic cloning although reproductive cloning, as with the rest of the international community, is still strictly condemned. Embryos cloned for therapeutic use therefore may not be implanted in a womb. Furthermore, they must be discarded within two weeks.
Switzerland actually addressed stem cell research in a national referendum, with the outcome being approval for embryonic stem cells that are unused and would otherwise be discarded following in vitro fertilisation. For more information about in vitro fertilisation visit Swiss laws strongly prohibit reproductive cloning or the creation of an embryo specifically for stem cell research purposes.
Originally, scientists were only allowed to use embryos frozen prior to 2003. This, however, changed when it was decided that embryos available for research could also include any that are frozen within two weeks of conception. The law further extends to allow parents who have children with incurable diseases to conceive a new embryo and utilise stem cells, thereby providing a tissue donor. This procedure would be used after all other options have been exhausted, so it is not a primary means for treatment.
It can be a difficult scientific and ethical balance for policies to reflect the desire for progress in managing disease along with the importance of maintaining the collective moral views of a nation. Today, stem cell research is still fraught with debate, both within and between nations. The variation in policies throughout the world clearly demonstrates the exciting therapeutic potential coupled with ethical criticisms of stem cell research.