Administration Proposal to Expand Unethical Use of Human Embryos in Destructive Research

Date: 02/28/2010

The NIH has proposed a revision in its “Guidelines for Human Embryonic Stem Cell Research” that will encourage and expand the further unethical use of human embryos in destructive research.

Currently, the guidelines define human embryonic stem cells as those “that are derived from the inner cell mass of blastocyst stage human embryos.” Proposals for human embryonic stem cell research must use lines that meet this definition to be eligible for federal funds.

The NIH now proposes to change this and define human embryonic stem cells as “pluripotent cells that are derived from early stage human embryos, up to and including the blastocyst stage.” This will encourage the destruction of earlier stage embryos for use by researchers seeking taxpayer dollars for their work.

This change appears mainly to benefit one private company – Advanced Cell Technology, a leading proponent of hESCR whose chief science officer, Robert Lanza, hailed President Obama’s inauguration as marking “the end of a sad chapter in American scientific history” (Bioworld Today, 1/28/09).

ACT had submitted seven of its hESC lines for NIH approval before this proposed definition change, has since added one more, and plans to add yet another. Of the eight lines that ACT hopes will be approved for taxpayer funding, at least four are referred to by Lanza as NED lines, for “No Embryo Destroyed.”

These lines were created by removing a blastomere (a single cell of the early stage embryo) and deriving a stem cell line from it. The remainder of the embryo supposedly remains safe and intact, according to Lanza.

But there is good reason to be skeptical of Lanza’s claims that no embryos are destroyed in this process, which is based on a technique used for preimplantation genetic diagnosis (“PGD”). With great fanfare, Lanza first announced this alleged breakthrough in 2006, saying ACT had used a PGD like technique to create embryonic stem cells lines without harming any embryos.

However, it was later revealed, thanks largely to the efforts of Richard Doerflinger of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, that all of the embryos used to obtain these stem cell lines had, in fact, been destroyed (www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/08/25/AR2006082501248.html).

This led Nature to publish corrections admitting the misleading nature of Lanza’s claims.

Because of the method used to obtain them, the human embryonic stem cell lines submitted for NIH approval by ACT do not meet the current NIH definition of an embryonic stem cell line and therefore are ineligible for federal funding.

It is troubling that the NIH is now proposing to change already ethically dubious guidelines in order to encourage further use of embryos in unethical, destructive research. It is even more so that the Administration would do this primarily to the financial advancement of one private company.

The proposed guidelines are open for public comment until March 24, 2010 (hescregapp.od.nih.gov/comments/add.htm).

Do No Harm encourages contacting NIH to express your opposition to this expansion of federal involvement in destructive human embryonic stem cell research.

For further information, please visit:

www.frcblog.com/2010/02/nih-redefines-embryonic-stem-cells/

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