Policy & Practice


Stem Cell Ethics

All institutions conducting research using human embryonic stem cells should establish special oversight committees to review the research, according to a report that was issued by the National Research Council and the Institute of Medicine. But these committees should replace existing institutional review boards, the report stated. The report includes research guidelines, such as one stating that leftover blastocysts at in-vitro fertilization clinics should not be donated for research without consent and another advising researchers not to ask fertility doctors to create more embryos than necessary for reproductive treatments. “A standard set of requirements for deriving, storing, distributing, and using embryonic stem cell lines—one to which the entire U.S. community adheres—is the best way for this research to move forward,” said Richard O. Hynes, Ph.D., who is the cochair of the committee and professor of cancer research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The report is available online at

Obtaining Emergency Contraception

Emergency contraception may not be available at hospitals even in states that require emergency departments to provide it, according to a study published in the Annals of Emergency Medicine. The study, published online in May, is based on a telephone survey of 587 Catholic hospitals and 615 non-Catholic hospitals. About 42% of non-Catholic hospitals and 55% of Catholic hospitals reported that their emergency department does not dispense emergency contraception under any circumstance. About one-third of all hospitals surveyed said emergency contraception is available with some restrictions. For example, some hospitals require a woman to take a pregnancy test first, and others will only provide it to victims of sexual assault. The survey was conducted by Ibis Reproductive Health, a Cambridge, Mass.-based women's reproductive-health research and advocacy group.

Improving the WIC Program

Changes are needed to the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children to promote breastfeeding and encourage participants to eat more whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, according to the Institute of Medicine. In its report, the IOM recommends that WIC revise its food packages for women who are breastfeeding. The packages should include greater amounts and a wider variety of food such as milk, eggs, cheese, and whole grains. The IOM also recommended that participants be given vouchers or coupons for fresh produce totaling $10 per month for each woman and $8 per month for each child. In fiscal year 2003, an average of 7.63 million people received WIC benefits each month. About 3.82 million were children, 1.95 million were infants, and 1.86 million were women. The report is available online at

Teen's Abortion Allowed

A Florida judge last month cleared the way for a 13-year-old girl to have an abortion. This comes as state lawmakers consider legislation to require parental notification when minors seek abortions. The case was controversial in Florida, where the girl is a ward of the state. She had initially sought help from her caseworker to seek an abortion, but the state's Department of Children and Families had obtained a court order to block the procedure. That order was overturned after the American Civil Liberties Union fielded an appeal on the teen's behalf and Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) announced he would not block her efforts to obtain an abortion. The state's Supreme Court struck down a parental-notification law in 1999, but last year a ballot measure was passed to amend the constitution to allow the law to be enacted.

Lobbying for Breast-Feeding

Mothers descended on Capitol Hill last month to support legislation that would offer incentives for women to breast-feed or pump milk while at work. The Breast-Feeding Promotion Act of 2005 (H.R. 2122) would provide tax incentives to businesses that establish private lactation areas in the workplace and would amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to provide protections for breast-feeding mothers at work. The bill also seeks to make the purchase of breast-feeding equipment tax deductible. “We want to make sure that any woman who decides to breast-feed will get all the support she needs,” said Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D.-N.Y.), one of the sponsors of the legislation. “The United States has one of the lowest breast-feeding rates in the industrialized world and one of the highest rates of infant mortality; we need to reverse that.” The bill had been previously introduced in the last two sessions of Congress.

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