- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 7, 2005

In pushing the U.S. House last month to expand federal support for human embryonic stem-cell research, proponents argued that the United States was falling behind in what could be one of the most promising medical advances of the age.

Just days before, South Korean scientists had announced a breakthrough in therapeutic cloning that allowed them to quickly produce stem cells genetically matched to people of varied ages, sexes and races.

The discovery conjured images of a whole new medical industry springing up almost overnight, with doctors eventually regenerating cells or tissues to treat or cure all kinds of ailments, including Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases — all without U.S. participation.

But the concern about falling behind the rest of the world might be overblown. In fact, the United States appears to be a relatively hospitable place for embryonic stem-cell research, especially when compared with Canada and some nations in Europe where governments not only refuse financial support for human cloning to produce stem cells, but they also outlaw the practice.

In Canada, scientists who violate the ban can be jailed for 10 years and fined $500,000. “You can bet that with these harsh sanctions, scientists are complying,” said Rosario M. Isasi, a lawyer who works on medical ethics issues at the University of Montreal.

Under German law, scientists who send e-mail or telephone with cloning instructions to colleagues in other countries can be imprisoned for three years and fined more than $60,000.

There are key differences among nations when it comes to regulating embryonic stem-cell research, according to Robert L. Paarlberg, a professor at Wellesley College in Massachusetts. He has written a book on genetic engineering.

The United States limits the flow of federal money for embryonic stem-cell research but does not restrict private, state or local government funding. California voters last year approved $3 billion for stem-cell research.

The European Union has adopted a similar policy, although it does allow financing for some new embryonic stem-cell lines. But national policies in Europe differ widely, and some countries have adopted sweeping regulations against both government and privately funded projects.

“In the United States, [opposition] comes mostly from the Christian right,” Mr. Paarlberg said. “In Europe, opposition also comes from Socialists and Green parties on the left, and from the state bureaucracies that tend to overregulate every kind of scientific endeavor.”

• Distributed by Scripps Howard

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