Communications Department

National Bioethic[ally Challenged] Advisory Commission Approves Fetal Death by Vivisection

Oct 31, 1999 | 10-October 1999 NRL News

On September 7, the National Bioethics Advisory Commission (NBAC) released its report to President Clinton on the ethical and medical issues involved in human embryonic stem cell research.

The report and transmittal letter by NBAC Chairman Harold Shapiro (president of Princeton University and defender-in-chief of Princeton’s new bioethicist Peter Singer who justifies the killing of handicapped newborns) are filled with arguments to justify lethal research on innocent unborn life.

A critique is in order.

POINT ONE: “Although wide agreement exists that human embryos deserve respect as a form of human life, there is disagreement both on the form such respect should take and on the level of protection owed at different stages of embryonic development” (emphasis added).

But how does one show “respect” to a live human embryo that one is dissecting (and killing) for his stem cells? Is an abject apology enough? And why the need to debate or split hairs over the level of protection owed at different embryonic stages? Since 1975 Congress has protected human embryos in the womb from all harmful federally funded research, at exactly the same stage of embryonic development (about one week old). Their location has no bearing on their humanity.

POINT TWO: “Although some may view the derivation and use of ES [embryonic stem] cells as ethically distinct activities, we do not believe that these differences are significant from the point of view of eligibility for federal funding.” In fact, trying to separate the two “presents an ethical problem, because doing so diminishes the scientific value of the activities receiving federal support. This separation … rests on the mistaken notion that the two areas of research are so distinct that participating in one need not mean participating in the other.”

Illustrating the maxim that even a broken clock shows the correct time twice a day, NBAC here correctly interprets the statute and rejects the Clinton-Gore Administration’s implausible claim that privately funded groups could legally kill the embryos and pass their stem cells on to federally funded researchers. These are not ethically distinct activities.

The Clinton-Gore Administration has only succeeded in producing evasive legal interpretations, questionable science, and incoherent ethics.

POINT THREE: “[T]here is no compelling reason at this time to provide federal funds for the creation of embryos for research. At the current time, cadaveric fetal tissue and embryos remaining after infertility treatment provide an adequate supply” [emphasis added].

Remarkably, the chief reason NBAC offers against creating new human lives for destructive research is that there are already enough “spare” embryos left over from infertility treatment and ” cadaveric fetal tissue” (from aborted fetuses) to supply the near- term research demand. If and when this “supply” is not “adequate,” the government would no doubt be urged to create embryos solely for destruction as well.

[While on the subject of tissue from aborted children, the reader is encouraged to go to NIH’s remarkable website. There you will read that “Human embryonic and fetal tissue are available from the … University of Washington. The laboratory, which is supported by the [NIH], can supply tissue from normal and abnormal embryos and fetuses of desired gestational ages between 40 days and term. Specimens are obtained within minutes of passage … [and] are shipped by overnight express.” ( guide/1994/94.03.11/notice-availability- 003.html).

POINT FOUR: The use of “spare” embryos from fertility clinics ” raises fewer ethical questions [than using embryos created for research purposes] because it does not alter their final disposition.” In other words, it’s okay for the government to kill “spare” embryos because a private party would kill them eventually.

By this logic the government could conduct harmful experiments on death row prisoners (as Jack Kevorkian has proposed) or on patients with AIDS, or on anyone else who is terminally ill because killing them won’t “alter their final disposition.” Congress has, in fact, already rejected this proposition, protecting all embryos in the womb from harmful research whether their mothers intended to abort them or bring them to term [42 USC §289g].

POINT FIVE: Adult stem cells are useful too, but because of ” important biological differences,” they “should not be considered an alternative to ES … cell research.”

Research using adult stem cells is advancing rapidly, making them more versatile, directing their development, and enabling them to live in culture for months at a time. The “differences” between embryonic and adult stem cells are increasingly less apparent. In some ways, the use of an adult’s own stem cells to treat diseases is more promising because it avoids the significant obstacle of tissue rejection.

Reports are appearing every few weeks now of successful tissue regeneration using adult stem cells including stem cells which have reprogrammed themselves to produce a different type of tissue. In one recent example, biologists from Children’s Hospital in Boston report using bone marrow cells from mice to create muscle tissue, causing other mice with muscular dystrophy to produce correctly working muscle cells (N. Wade, “Researchers Turn Marrow into Muscle,” New York Times, September 23, 1999, p. A17).

Commenting on new ways to “regenerate” and transplant patients’ own brain cells to treat Parkinson’s and other diseases, Michel Levesque, director of neurofunctional surgery at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, said, “What we have is a protocol in which we don’t have to harvest 12 or 15 fetuses, we don’t have to give immunosuppressant therapy, and we don’t have to worry about viral disease transmission” (quoted in M. Moran, “For cell transplants, is one better than two?” American Medical News, May 3, 1999, p. 29).

NIH guidelines for federally funded research using stem cells obtained by destroying human embryos are expected soon. They reportedly will be published in draft form for 60 days of public comment and it’s imperative that the public makes clear its opposition to this research to both NIH and members of Congress.