Government Must Reject Destructive Human Embryonic Stem Cell Research: It Is Unjustifiable Ethically, Legally, and Scientifically

Date: 03/08/2001

Do No Harm: The Coalition of Americans for Research Ethics agrees with the substantive claims in the lawsuit, filed today by the Christian Medical Association and others, regarding the National Institutes of Health guidelines to fund destructive embryonic stem cell research: Such research is unethical, illegal and unnecessary.

Destructive Human Embryo Research Is Unethical: Destroying living human embryos for research purposes violates the basic tenet of the healing arts: First of all, do no harm. It is ethically indefensible to harm or destroy some human lives in order to benefit others. It is indefensible to redefine some human life as less than human to justify its use in destructive research. The 20th Century, especially, provides horrifying and sobering examples of the destruction wrought when a utilitarian ethic of the ends justify the means takes hold in medical and scientific research: the World War II medical war crimes, the Tuskegee experiments, government-sponsored radiation research during the Cold War. An ethic that condones such experimentation not only destroys individual lives, but corrodes science and medicine and corrupts society as well.

Destructive Embryo Research Is Illegal: The congressional ban on federally-funded human embryo research is clear in prohibiting research in which a human embryo or embryos are destroyed, discarded, or knowingly subjected to risk of injury or death. Embryonic stem cell research requires the destruction of living human embryos to obtain the stem cells. To reject funding for the destruction of the human embryo, while promoting research one knows can only be undertaken through such destruction, is an exercise in sophistry, not ethics. The intent of such reasoning is not to clarify existing law, but to circumvent it. Even President Clinton’s National Bioethics Advisory Commission called it a “mistaken notion” that there can be any meaningful separation between destruction of the embryo, and research that relies on such destruction.

Destructive Embryo Research Is Medically Unnecessary: Numerous studies confirm that stem cells derived from adults are equally or more promising for medical advancement compared to embryonic stem cells. Breakthroughs using adult, not embryonic, stem cells abound: already adult stem cells have been used successfully in clinical trials to treat cartilage defect in children, restore vision to patients who were legally blind, relieve systemic lupus, multiple sclerosis, and rheumatoid arthritis and severe combined immunodeficiency disease. Embryonic stem cells have no such track record of success. Moreover, using a patient’s own stem cells avoids the inevitable problem of the body’s rejection of cells not its own.

The United States government should reject the course of action, proposed by the National Institutes of Health, of supporting destructive human embryonic stem cell research. Instead, it 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 promise, for medical progress.

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.

A lawsuit was filed today, by the Christian Medical Association, an adoption agency, and others, in order to halt the National Institutes of Health from funding destructive human embryonic stem cell research. While Do No Harm is not itself participating in this lawsuit, we agree with its substantive claims: destructive human embryonic stem cell research is illegal, unethical and unnecessary. If you are interested in seeing the complete lawsuit, it can be found here.