Embryo and Fetal Research Laws

Current Status

Michigan Law
Proposal 2, a constitutional amendment passed in 2008, allows research on human embryos created ostensibly from fertility treatments. The amendment effectively created an exception to Michigan’s 1978 law prohibiting experimentation that is harmful to an embryo or fetus. The amendment was loosely worded and does not currently have a framework in Michigan law that expressly defines what is and isn’t legal.

Federal Law
There are no federal laws restricting private research on human fetuses or embryos.

In 1993, Congress passed the NIH Revitalization Act which permits experiments using tissue from aborted fetuses to receive federal grant money. The law includes requirements for informed consent and criminalizes the sale or purchase of fetal tissue.

In 1996, Congress adopted language (the Dickey Amendment) to the Health & Human Services budget bill prohibiting federal funding of any research that would destroy or create live human embryos. The prohibition has been renewed in all subsequent Health and Human Services budget bills.

Research on embryonic stem cell lines obtained from human embryos, however, is eligible for federal funding. The Dickey Amendment did not address research on tissue taken from human embryos that were already destroyed with private research money. President Barack Obama issued an executive order on March 9, 2009, allowing funds to be used for research on embryonic stem cells.


Fetal Tissue Transplantation
In this process, tissues are taken from aborted children for the purpose of immediate transplanting into patients suffering from diseases such as Parkinson’s disease or diabetes. Evidence indicates that injecting fetal tissue into human beings can cause tumor growth.

Stem Cell Research
Stem cells are the cells from which all other cells originate. In a human embryo, a large portion of the embryo’s cells are stem cells. As the child grows in her mother’s womb, most of these cells begin to differentiate and become the heart, liver, kidneys and all of the more than 200 kinds of tissue found in the human body. While most of these stem cells become differentiated, all humans regenerate and retain stem cells throughout the body in tissues like blood, bone marrow, fat and brains. These cells are generically called “adult stem cells” even though we have them from birth and throughout life.

Stem cells are incredibly versatile cells that can replicate indefinitely. These cells, with the correct chemical cue, can develop into specialized cells. Since stem cells are so versatile and there are many diseases that result from the lack of or dysfunction of a single type of cell, there is hope within the medical community that some day cells can be reprogrammed to cure various diseases.

Research with adult stem cells has been ongoing for decades in the form of bone marrow cells. Adult stem cell research is ethical as the stem cells are donated by patients without causing harm. Discoveries have shown adult stem cells can be obtained from many sources, including fat, baby teeth and umbilical cord blood leftover from a delivery. Currently, adult stem cells are used to treat more than 70 different conditions, while human embryonic stem cells have yet to be used in a clinical trial due to several large medical hurdles. Recent research indicates that other types of cells such as human skin cells can be genetically altered to revert to an embryonic-like state and have the same potential to turn into any type of cell in the body. These induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS cells) show that they may be a much more viable alternative to destroying human embryos for experimentation.


Michigan Law
Michigan passed laws in 1978 which prohibited most forms of embryo or fetal experimentation, and in particular, especially non-therapeutic research on a live embryo, fetus or neonate (MCL 333.2685 -.2692). “Non-therapeutic” is defined as research not intended to benefit the subject of the research (i.e. the fetus). Research on a live fetus shall not be performed if it is the “subject of a planned abortion.” Performing or offering to perform an abortion in exchange for the use of the fetus for research purposes is prohibited as is the sale or transfer of a fetus. Whether these laws apply to fetal tissue transplants is unclear, as this type of research was not even proposed at the time the statutes were passed.

Right to Life of Michigan holds that these types of experimentation should be prohibited by law. The most troubling aspect of accepting this research is the denial of the personhood of unborn children while acknowledging that their tissue is useful because it is human. In short, embryonic stem cell research and fetal tissue transplantation says to the unborn, “You can be useful to society; you just can’t be a member of it.”

Federal Law
Fetal tissue research became a point of controversy after the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade. The Department of Health, Education and Welfare (forerunner of the Department of Health and Human Services) instituted a moratorium that prevented federal grant money to go to research on live human fetuses. Congress issued its own temporary moratorium on funding research using tissue from aborted fetuses in 1974 with the National Research Act, but it also created a national commission to create future guidelines for research involving fetuses. The commission published guidelines allowing research, but no federally-funded experiments were approved before the commission’s charter expired in 1980.

Following a request in 1987 from the National Institute of Health (NIH) to begin transplantation experiments using fetal tissue, President Ronald Reagan instituted another moratorium in 1988 to prevent federal funds from being given to projects using aborted tissue. Even while the moratorium was in place, privately funded research was being done as well as federally-funded research using tissue from spontaneous abortions (miscarriages) and abortions needed to save the life of the mother.

President Bill Clinton lifted the moratorium in 1993, and Congress passed the NIH Revitalization Act which permits experiments using tissue taken from aborted fetuses to receive federal grant money. The law remains in force today.

As the field of research into human embryos began to gain wider attention, calls began for using federal funds to support the research. A special committee of the NIH issued a report in 1994 declaring that a variety of research projects involving the intentional creation of human embryos are ethically acceptable. Some of the research considered included cloning and asexual reproduction of human beings through genetic manipulation. After widespread public reaction against the findings, President Clinton issued a directive that NIH not allocate any resources to projects which would create new embryos for research purposes. President Clinton accepted the other findings of the committee, however, and instructed the NIH to consider funding research using live human embryos “leftover” from IVF treatments.

In reaction, Congress prohibited federal funding of research that would destroy or create live human embryos by adding the Dickey Amendment to the 1996 Health and Human Services budget bill. The prohibition has been renewed in all subsequent Health and Human Services budget bills.

The issue became the focus of attention again after embryonic stem cells were first isolated from human embryos in 1998. The event renewed calls for federal funding of research and provided a way around the Dickey Amendment. In 2000, the Clinton Administration and NIH announced that federal funding for embryonic stem cell research could be allowed under the Dickey Amendment as long as no federal funds went directly for the destruction of the embryos. In other words, private companies could destroy the embryos first and then ask for federal funding of their research.

Before any funds were given to projects, President George W. Bush was elected and instituted a moratorium while deciding how his administration would handle the situation. On August 9, 2001, President Bush made a compromise and announced that federal funds would be available for embryonic stem cell lines created before his announcement but would not be available for any stem cell taken from embryos destroyed after it. Once an embryo is destroyed and stem cells are extracted, they can continue to reproduce indefinitely in the lab. The NIH released a list the following November of 74 acceptable embryonic stem cell lines which would be available for public funding.

Despite private research remaining legal and ongoing, scientists claimed that President Bush’s decision was slowing down potentially life saving advancements and continued demanding taxpayer support of their research. Following his election, President Obama reversed President Bush’s executive order on March 9, 2009, now allowing federal tax dollars to fund research on new embryonic stem cell lines. On July 6, 2009, the NIH published the guidelines for obtaining federal funding of research on stem cells taken from human embryos.

P.A. 368 of 1978
M.C.L. 333.2685-2692
Current Status
Effective Date: September 30, 1978

This act prohibits a person from using a live human embryo, fetus, or neonate for scientific or laboratory research, or other kind of experimental or investigation not designed to improve the health of the research subject.Research on a dead embryo, fetus, or neonate is prohibited unless the consent of the mother has first been obtained. Consent is not required in the case of a routine pathological study.A person is not allowed to perform or offer to perform an abortion where part or all of the consideration for the performance is that the embryo, or fetus, whether alive or dead, may be used for research or study.A fetal death occurring in this state shall be reported to the state registrar within 5 days after delivery. A physician who performs an abortion shall report the performance of that procedure to the department on forms prescribed by the department. The reports shall be transmitted to the director within 7 days after the performance of the abortion. Reports are given for statistical information, the information will in no way identify the individual who has obtained or seeks to obtain an abortion.

Proposal 2 of 2008
Article I, Section 27
Michigan Constitution

Sec. 27(1) Nothing in this section shall alter Michigan’s current prohibition on human cloning.

(2) To ensure that Michigan citizens have access to stem cell therapies and cures, and to ensure that physicians and researchers can conduct the most promising forms of medical research in this state, and that all such research is conducted safely and ethically, any research permitted under federal law on human embryos may be conducted in Michigan, subject to the requirements of federal law and only the following additional limitations and requirements:

(a) No stem cells may be taken from a human embryo more than fourteen days after cell division begins; provided, however, that time during which an embryo is frozen does not count against this fourteen day limit.

(b) The human embryos were created for the purpose of fertility treatment and, with voluntary and informed consent, documented in writing, the person seeking fertility treatment chose to donate the embryos for research; and

(i) the embryos were in excess of the clinical need of the person seeking the fertility treatment and would otherwise be discarded unless they are used for research; or

(ii) the embryos were not suitable for implantation and would otherwise be discarded unless they are used for research.

(c) No person may, for valuable consideration, purchase or sell human embryos for stem cell research or stem cell therapies and cures.

(d) All stem cell research and all stem cell therapies and cures must be conducted and provided in accordance with state and local laws of general applicability, including but not limited to laws concerning scientific and medical practices and patient safety and privacy, to the extent that any such laws do not:

(i) prevent, restrict, obstruct, or discourage any stem cell research or stem cell therapies and cures that are permitted by the provisions of this section; or

(ii) create disincentives for any person to engage in or otherwise associate with such research or therapies or cures.

(3) Any provision of this section held unconstitutional shall be severable from the remaining portions of this section.