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J Law Med Ethics. 2016 Sep;44(3):419-36. doi: 10.1177/1073110516667939.

The New Federalism: State Policies Regarding Embryonic Stem Cell Research.

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Nefi D. Acosta, J.D., is a recent graduate of the University of California, Irvine School of Law. Sidney H. Golub, Ph.D., is the Edward A. Dickson Professor Emeritus of Microbiology & Molecular Genetics and Interim Director of the Sue & Bill Gross Stem Cell Research Center at the University of California, Irvine.


Stem cell policy in the United States is an amalgam of federal and state policies. The scientific development of human pluripotent embryonic stem cells (ESCs) triggered a contentious national stem cell policy debate during the administration of President George W. Bush. The Bush "compromise" that allowed federal funding to study only a very limited number of ESC derived cell lines did not satisfy either the researchers or the patient advocates who saw great medical potential being stifled. Neither more restrictive legislation nor expansion of federal funding proved politically possible and the federal impasse opened the door for a variety of state-based experiments. In 2004, California became the largest and most influential state venture into stem cell research by passing "Prop 71," a voter initiative that created a new stem cell agency and funded it with $3 billion. Several states followed suit with similar programs to protect the right of investigators to do stem cell research and in some cases to invest state funding in such projects. Other states devised legislation to restrict stem cell research and in five states, criminal penalties were included. Thus, the US stem cell policy is a patchwork of multiple, often conflicting, state and federal policies.

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