On Human Embryos and Stem Cell Research
The Founding Statement of Do No Harm: The Coalition of Americans for
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.
- Human embryonic stem cell research violates existing law and policy
Human embryonic stem cell research is unethical:
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.
Human embryonic stem cell research is scientifically unnecessary:
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
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."
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.