Protecting Biomedical Research

S. 1599 and S. 1601 and S. 1602, introduced by Senator Feinstein, both contain clauses for the protection of biomedical research. There is a critical difference between them with the former provision providing no protection at all and the latter provision serving a useful role.

At the press conference announcing introduction of his bill Senator Bond distributed a document entitled "CURRENT RESEARCH UNTOUCHED BY THE BOND/FRIST/ GREGG LEGISLATION." The title of this document was followed by a list of such research, including "In Vitro Fertilization," "Stem Cell Research," "Gene Therapy," "Cloning of Cells, Tissues, Animals and Plants," "Cancer," "Diabetes," "Birth Defects," "Arthritis," "Organ Failure," "Genetic Disease," "Severe Skin Burns," "Multiple Sclerosis," "Muscular Dystrophy," "Spinal Cord Injuries," "Alzheimer’s Disease," "Parkinson’s Disease," and "Lou Gehrig’s Disease." Unfortunately, the title is followed by a critical qualification, an asterisk. The asterisk qualification states, "The Bond/Lott bill would not prohibit any of this research, even embryo research, as long as it did not involve the use of a very specific technique (somatic cell nuclear transfer) to create a live cloned human embryo."

In the ways described above this asterisk qualification acknowledges that the bill would, in fact, make it a crime to conduct some types of stem cell research and other research. Given the importance of the asterisk, the document’s title and the list of supposedly protected research could be considered misleading.

S. 1599/S. 1601 each contain a Section 5 entitled "UNRESTRICTED SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH." This section provides that "Nothing in this Act (or an amendment made by this Act) shall be construed to restrict areas of scientific research that are not specifically prohibited by this Act (or amendments)." This provision is circular. It states that the bill does what it does and does not do what it does not do. The provision does nothing to modify the prohibitions on research and does nothing to protect "scientific research."

In contrast S. 1602 includes a provision regarding "PROTECTED RESEARCH AND PRACTICES" which provides that

Nothing in this section shall be construed to restrict areas of biomedical and agriculture research or practices not expressly prohibited in this section, including research or practices that involve the use of -- (1) somatic cell nuclear transfer or other cloning technologies to clone molecules, DNA, cells, and tissues; (2) mitochondrial, cytoplasmic or gene therapy; or (3) somatic cell nuclear transfer techniques to create nonhuman animals.

This is a "savings" clause with meaning and content. Its reference to the cloning of "cells" and to "mitochondrial" therapy are laudatory and meaningful.