Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Uniform ESC Research Standards, More Federal Funding? Lower Your Expectations

The "bizarre patchwork" of embryonic stem cell regulation across the country is not going to disappear regardless of what happens in the presidential election in 2008, several speakers said today at a stem cell conference in San Francisco.

It was not a message that the audience of 500 persons from throughout the world necessarily wanted to hear. Their preference would be for unified standards with ample predictability, ideally at the federal if not global level.

But Nancy Forbes, an attorney with Ropes & Gray of Boston and San Francisco, said "The genie is not going to go back in the bottle." She said she has never seen a governmental body roll back its jurisdiction.

It was a theme echoed by others on the panel discussing "The Un-United States: Cell Lines Border Lines and The Law" at The Stem Cell Meeting, sponsored by Burrill & Company.

Ken Taymor, an attorney with MBV Law of San Francisco and who has followed California stem cell issues closely, also noted that there is little likelihood of a flood of federal ESC research funding following the 2008 election.

He said the NIH, in fact, may look at all the state and private research efforts underway and decide that it does not need to spend its limited funds in the area, an ironic negative effect of state activity aimed at beefing up stem cell research funding.

Russell Korobkin
, a UCLA law professor, tackled what he called the "most problematic" aspect of the the stem cell laws across the nation – the bar against compensating women who donate their eggs. He said that compensation is permitted for donation of eggs for in vitro fertilization, which is identical to the process for donating eggs for research.

Korobkin dissected the argument for the compensation ban. He said it does not prevent coercion of women; rather it is actually coercive by limiting what women may do. The argument also assumes that "women cannot make the best decision" concerning egg donation and need to be protected by the state. If the process is too risky, he said, it should be banned regardless of payment or lack of payment. And it is not clear that the ban protects society as a whole, Korobkin argued.

Underlying the argument for compensation prohibitions seems to be "a wish that there were no women so poor that they would be motivated by their eggs," the law professor said.

Korobkin, however, did not deal with the politically touchy nature of repealing the ban on compensation. The subject is freighted with emotions that are fueled by the nightmarish visions of some of egg factories in poverty-stricken corners of the country or the world. Few lawmakers are inclined to support the repeal of compensation lest they get tarred with a brush from that very same vision. Sphere: Related Content

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