The Federal Government and Financial Support for Stem Cell Research

The Federal Government and Financial Support for Stem Cell Research


Cells are the building blocks of living things. However, these cells come in a variety of types such as skin cells, brain cells, muscles cells and bone cells. That is, they are specialized. They are designed to do only certain jobs within particular body parts. When these cells die, they are not replaced. If too many of the cells die, the body part they form becomes damaged forever. However, a few cells in the body are generative. That is, they are progenitor cells that can become any part of the body, they self-rebuild. Such cells are referred to as the human stem cells. In the human body, they are only found in the brain, bone marrow, skin and liver. They can repair moderate damage (Forman, 2007, pgs. 1-6).

Another kind of stem cell, however, is more versatile and is referred to, as the embryonic stem cells. They come from embryos or unborn humans in the very earliest stages of life. To be used in stem cell research, they must be less than one-week-old (Forman, 2007, pg. 8). It is these cells, which can develop into every cell in the body. They are the source of debate over stem cell research and the role that the federal government should play in the funding of such research.

This paper will highlight the benefits that the citizens of the United States will gain from all forms of stem cell research, which are funded by the federal government. It will also outline the gains that would be reaped if the federal government failed to fund such research and the funds are channeled to other sectors of the economy whose results are more assured.

Stem Cell Research

Stem cell research involves the study of both embryonic stem cells and adult stem cells. However, it is the human embryonic stem cell that are predominantly used due to their capacity to provide large, purified populations of human cells such as the heart muscle cells, pancreatic cells or neurons for transplantation therapies. Additionally, they offer insight into the developmental events that cannot be studied directly in the intact human embryo, but which have important consequences in clinical areas such as birth defects, infertility and pregnancy loss (Schatten, 2006, pgs. 202-203). Stem cell research has known an enormous development and cellular transplantation and holds a great promise for regenerative  medicine. Scientists present stem cell research as the key to several potential applications in research, drug discovery and trans-plantation medicine (Lynch, 2011, pg. 20).

Arguments For and Against Federal Government Funding to Stem Cell Research

Participants in the public debate surrounding human embryonic stem cell research and the administration’s funding policy have addressed themselves to many complicated and difficult ethical matters. As many people as are for government funding are also against government funding towards stem cell research, particularly, embryonic stem cell research.

Arguments against Government Funding

The predominant reason why the federal government should not fund the stem cell research program revolves around issues moral and ethics. They should not fund stem cell research because the use of embryonic stem cells will result to the embryo being destroyed. An embryo is a human life on equal standing with any other human life and it is wrong to destroy human life for any reason, even if it is with the goal of saving another (Forman, 2007, pgs. 27-28). The federal government funding of such research will be paramount to aiding in committing murder albeit not murder as is recognized by the law. It would be wrong to use tax dollars to encourage the destruction of human embryos.

Not everyone is a fan of federal government funding for stem cell research. Some people argue that with individual states are taking much of the financial burden, the federal government should stay out of the more controversial aspects of stem cell science, such as work involving human embryos. They point out that in vitro fertilization was developed without financial support from the US government and that the united states is the undisputed world leader in fertility treatments, a $3 billion-a-year industry. These advocates also note that James Thomson’s lab, which was the first to isolate  human embryonic stem cells in 1998 did not use any federal funding for its research in this area. Therefore, the federal should desist from from getting involved in the funding stem cell research.

All levels of government should stay away from funding scientific research in general.  This is for the reason that government funding does not get the same kind of returns on its investment that private companies do when there is private funding (Schneider and Goldstein, 2010, pgs. 273-274). Moreover, subsidizing academic research cannibalizes the private industry.

Additionally, government-funded research and initiatives are unnecessarily bureaucratic and cumbersome and therefore, stifling rather than encouraging scientific research and innovation (Goldstein and Schneider, 2010, pg. 273).

Another argument against the funding of stem cell research is concerning the practicability of the research process. Large amount of funds may be committed and used in the course of the research and yet the entire research process turns out to be unsuccessful and unrealizable. This will mean that the taxpayers’ money, which would otherwise have been used and appropriated wisely into more constructive and guaranteed ventures, has been lost and wasted. Moreover, many Americans lack very basic healthcare services. They have no access to medical tools and techniques that exist at present and which do not raise profound controversy. These funds could be spent in financing the current health care system in order to accommodate those citizens who cannot access these basic of services (President's Council on Bioethics, 2011, pg. 94).

Arguments for government funding

The funding of stem cell research by the federal government has its benefits too. According to the book Measuring The Gains From Medical Research: An Economic Approach, by Kevin Murphy and Robert Topel (2003, pgs. 4-5), improvements in preventing and treating heart diseases alone netted a total economic gain of 31$ trillion, 1000 times the annual NIH budget. Additionally, the increases in average life expectancy in the 1970’s and 1980’s were valued at $57 trillion, four times the gross domestic product in the United States in 2008. According to the book, a medical research that leads to a 20 percent reduction in cancer deaths would be worth $10 trillion to the US economy. Based on this, it would be beneficial to the entire US economy if stem cell research was funded by the federal government if only to speed up the possibility of a breakthrough in this field.

The government should fund stem cell research because, besides of its potential to benefit the lives of the American citizen, its success will mean that the government will profit in terms of incomes from the sale of drug and trans-plantation medicine. That is to say, they will have an additional source of revenue collected from the proceeding of the research that can be used to subsidize other sectors of the economy, more so, the health system  (Marzilli, 2007, pgs. 28-29).

Additionally, funding stem cell research by the federal government will mean hope for the American citizens who have serious medical condition. It will mean a life without insulin or no risk of complications for the diabetic patient, a chance to walk again for the person with spinal cord injuries and the hope for an end to their disease for the person with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease).

A Middle Ground

Participants in the public debate surrounding human embryonic stem cell research and the administration’s funding policy have addressed themselves to many complicated and difficult ethical matters. As the paper has presented, there are strong and powerful views for both sides. However, it would be very difficult for the two opposing sides to come into an agreement.

Indeed the supporters have solid reason for taking their stand and championing for financial support to stem cell research by the federal government. Nevertheless, the people against the funding by the government also do have a cause to for opposing. The only way for the two sides to agree is for a compromise to be arrived at. Following are my suggested compromise.

The middle ground would be for the federal government funding the research on stem cell research but this must be limited. It should support only human stem cell research without encouraging the possibility of embryo destruction. That is, fund the research while still advancing the worthy cause of medical research and abandon any form of embryonic stem cell research, which would otherwise encourage the unethical act of embryo destructive.

Another alternative would be more attention being directed and more resources devoted to adult stem cell research, this step even though it raises a number of ethical difficulties, might make the embryonic stem cell research unnecessary, if it proves to be sufficiently useful.

Finally, as an act of final resort any funding or research to be undertaken on embryonic stem cell research,  must be attempted only after all the other alternatives have first been  fully exhausted. That is, other possible alternatives that is less morally troubling to the Americans public.


This paper has clearly demonstrated that the government and the people of the United States stand to gain more by not providing financial support for stem cell research than by providing funding to these research endeavors. However, in my position in opposing any form of state funding, I agree that the government should provide support for stem cell research but only in cases where such funding will exclusively be utilized to research on adult stem cell research and not embryonic stem cell research.


Cited Works

Forman, Lillian . Stem Cell Research. illustrated. Minnesota: ABDO, 2007.

Lynch, John Alexander. What Are Stem Cells?: Definitions at the Intersection of Science and Politics. Alabama: University of Alabama Press, 2011.

Marzilli, Alan. Stem cell research and cloning. illustrated, annotated. New York: Infobase Publishing, 2007.

Panno, Joseph . Stem cell research: medical applications and ethical controversy. New York: Infobase Publishing, 2005.

President's Council on Bioethics. Monitoring Stem Cell Research: A Report of the President's Council on Bioethics. Washington DC: Government Printing Office, 2011.

Pressberg, Gail and Pam Solo. The promise and politics of stem cell research. Connecticut: Greenwood Publishing Group, 2007.

Schneider, Meg and Lawrence S B Goldstein. Stem Cells for Dummies. New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, 2010.

Topel, Robert H and Kevin M Murphy. Measuring the gains from medical research: an economic approach. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003.

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