Congress, White House Should Reject NBAC Report

Date: 09/14/1999

The National Bioethics Advisory Committee (NBAC) this week issued its final report on human stem cell research. This report would establish as government policy a chilling utilitarian calculation in place of the long-established medical norm that rejects doing harm to some in order to possibly benefit others.

The report gives token recognition to the general consensus that “human embryos deserve respect as human life.” But in a curious sign of that respect, it nevertheless urges their deliberate destruction to obtain stem cells, all with full funding from the federal government.

The report’s ethical reasoning only becomes more confused, when it concludes that destroying “spare” embryos is relatively unproblematic, since such embryos will be destroyed anyway. By that reasoning the government should also follow the recommendations of euthanasia enthusiast and convicted felon Jack Kevorkian, who advocates experimentation on death row prisoners, because they too are slated to die anyway. Terminally ill cancer patients and unborn children slated for abortion would also become ideal subjects for government funded lethal experimentation. Of course, the government does not sanction such experimentation in any of these circumstances, on the clear understanding that it does not have a special license to kill someone, in the name of science, just because that individual may not have long to live. There is no reason to suspend this understanding now in order to justify lethal embryo research.

The Commission, under the guise of closing it, actually opens the door to even more bizarre and disturbing manipulations of human life. The Commission claims to find “no compelling reason at this time” (emphasis added) to fund the special creation of embryos for lethal experimentation. But it goes on to suggest doing just that if current sources fail to produce “an adequate supply of cells.” The report also suggests the future necessity for government funding of destructive experiments in human cloning, since it may otherwise prove impossible to produce genetically matched embryonic tissue for transplantation into adults. The Clinton Administration says it opposes funding these types of experiments–why then fund embryo research now, if it will likely require these further abuses in order to succeed?

Clear alternatives to destructive embryonic stem cell research exist. In fact, the report downplays the great potential of extant stem cells (i.e., cord blood, adult stem cells), which are already beginning to see significant clinical uses.

Both the White House and Congress should reject the approach to human stem cell research proposed by NBAC. Instead, the government should promote 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 medical promise, as destructive embryonic stem cell research.

Experts on the science and ethics of stem cell research from Do No Harm: The Coalition of Americans for Research Ethics are available for comment. To speak with them, please contact Gene Tarne or Michelle Powers at 703-684-8352.