AAAS/ICS Report Evades Illegal and Unethical Nature of Destructive Human Embryonic Stem Cell Research

Date: 08/25/1999

Discounts Promise of Adult Stem Cell Research

ALEXANDRIA, VA–A preliminary report by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and the Institute for Civil Society (ICS), while noting the ethical and moral objections to human embryonic stem cell research, inexplicably hides the basis for such objections: the unlawful and unethical destruction of human beings that such research necessarily entails. The report, which recommends full federal funding for such destructive research, is the subject of a daylong conference being held today (8/25/99) at AAAS headquarters in Washington, D.C.

Curiously, although the AAAS report concedes that stem cell research “raises ethical and policy concerns,” it nonetheless concludes that “these are not unique to stem cell research.” Such a statement only “concedes” other areas of research that have been unethically sponsored by the government in the past, and it obscures the difference between research on embryonic stem cells versus other types of stem cells (i.e., cord blood, adult stem cells). Indeed, embryonic stem cell research is unique from all other research that now enjoys federal funding in that it requires the deliberate destruction of human beings to obtain the raw research materials. The very act of harvesting the human embryonic stem cells destroys the embryo. Such harvesting of embryonic stem cells is already illegal in a growing number of states, and it is also barred from federal funding under current federal law.

Given this scientific reality, the AAAS’s attempt (similar one being suggested but not yet formally proposed by the National Institutes of Health ) to separate the destructive derivation of stem cells from their use in research is morally and ethically a distinction without a difference. To say that the deliberate destruction of human embryos to harvest their stem cells should not receive federal funding, but that such funding is permissible in support of research that can only take place using materials derived from that destruction, is ethically self-contradictory and violates the language and intent of current federal law federal forbidding federal support for the destruction of human embryos for research purposes. The report also downplays the great potential of extant stem cells (i.e., cord blood, adult stem cells), which are already beginning to see significant clinical uses.

The AAAS’s contention that the “derivation of human stem cells can be done in an ethically acceptable manner” further obscures the destructive nature of such research.

While extant stem cells can be derived in an ethically acceptable manner, the objection to embryonic stem cell research is precisely that there is no ethical way to deliberately destroy some human life in the hope of benefitting others. This would not pose an ethical problem if adult human stem cells–already demonstrated to be successful– were used. Doing harm to one set of individuals to possibly benefit others is a moral frontier that law and medical tradition say should not and must not be crossed. This century provides horrifying and sobering examples of the destruction wrought when this mortal frontier has been crossed: the Nazi medical war crimes, the Tuskegee experiments, government-sponsored radiation research.

Do No Harm: The Coalition of Americans for Research Ethics, agrees that human stem cell research shows great promise in advancing treatments for a variety of illnesses. The Coalition, however, rejects the deliberate destruction of human embryos in the name of advancing scientific knowledge and instead calls for government support of adult stem cell research which protects the inviolability of all individuals, rejects harming some for the benefit of others, and holds as much, if not more promise, for medical progress as destructive embryonic stem cell research.

Experts with Do No Harm are available for comment. For further information, please call Gene Tarne or Michelle Powers at (703) 684-8352, or visit our website at: