On Human Embryos and Stem Cell Research
The Founding Statement of Do No Harm: The Coalition of Americans for Research Ethics
July 1, 1999
Stem cell research promises great good and is a worthy scientific priority as long as we pursue it ethically. Obtaining stem cells from people without seriously harming people in the process can be ethical. However, obtaining stem cells from human embryos cannot be ethical because it necessarily involves destroying those embryos.
1. Human embryonic stem cell research violates existing law and policy:
- State: Homicide laws of all 50 states protect human life and the dignity of every human being–especially the vulnerable; laws of many states already specifically protect vulnerable embryonic human beings outside the womb; most prohibit destructive human embryo and human fetal research.
- National: The present Congressional ban on federally-funded human embryo research explicitly excludes “research in which a human embryo or embryos are destroyed, discarded, or knowingly subjected to risk of injury or death”; existing laws requiring separation between the death of an unborn child in abortion and research objectives using the unborn child’s tissues preclude the destruction of human embryos as a means of achieving research objectives.
- International: Documents such as the Nuremburg Code, the World Medical Association’s Declaration of Helsinki, and the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights reject the use of human beings in experimental research without their informed consent and permit research on incompetent subjects only if there is a legal surrogate, minimal risk, and therapeutic benefit for the human subject.
2. Human embryonic stem cell research is unethical:
- Recent history provides tragic examples of attempts to justify gross violations of the rights of human beings in medical research on the utilitarian basis of “social and medical benefit”: the Tuskegee experiments on African Americans, U.S. government-sponsored radiation research, the Nazi medical war crimes, etc.
- Good ends (e.g., health) do not justify the use of unethical means (e.g., killing human beings).
- Scientifically, the international consensus of embryologists is that human beings begin at fertilization (or cloning)–i.e., when their genetic code is complete and operative; even before implantation they are far more than a “bunch of cells” or merely ” potential human beings.”
3. Human embryonic stem cell research is scientifically unnecessary:
- Other research methods which use stem cells from adults to develop treatments for many diseases have recently been successful; in fact, the British Medical Journal (1999) has concluded that, in medical research, human embryonic stem cells “may soon be eclipsed by the more readily available and less controversial adult stem cells. “
- The use of a patient’s own stem cells is even preferable to using embryonic stem cells because it avoids the problem of the body rejecting cells other than its own.
- Other new methods such as somatic cell gene therapy are increasingly successful in tissue regeneration and otherwise treating disease.
Necessary Next Steps:
- Congress should maintain the existing ban on harmful federally-funded human embryo research and make explicit its application to embryonic stem cell research.
- Congress should provide federal funding for the development of alternative treatments which do not require the destruction of embryonic human beings.