Testimony at the Release of the Do Not Harm Founding Statement by Richard M. Doerflinger

Date: 07/01/1999

July 1, 1999

Today’s appeal by almost a hundred experts in medicine, law, ethics and science provides a dose of well-grounded fact and clear thinking to the debate on human embryo research. Tragically, the current Administration’s role in this debate has consisted of misinformation, evasion and hypocrisy.

Citing a legal memorandum drafted by the former legal director of the National Abortion Rights Action League, the National Institutes of Health claims that when it rewards researchers for having embryos destroyed for their stem cells, it is not involved in helping to destroy embryos.

Apparently if the NIH staff ever saw the Sam Peckinpah film “Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia,” they came out of the theater very surprised that the person giving that order wanted Mr. Garcia dead. “Bring me the dismembered inner cells of those embryos,” says the NIH — but we are supposed to ignore the fact that this is an order to make those embryos dead.

Can this really be a way of implementing the federal ban on funding lethal embryo research? By that logic, the government should begin providing federal funds to purchase the organs of assisted suicide victims from Jack Kevorkian — as a way of implementing the federal ban on funding assisted suicide.

What NIH proposes is not an interpretation of the law at all, but a transparent effort to circumvent the law. Even members of the National Bioethics Advisory Commission (NBAC), who strongly support lethal embryo research, have pointed out that the NIH policy is disingenuous. As NBAC member Alexander Capron has said, we are not living in the fairy tale “The Elves and the Shoemaker.” The NIH does not wake up in the morning and say “Oh, embryonic stem cells are on my workbench! The elves must have brought them in the night!” It is the NIH, after all, that is offering to pay the elves to come up with high-quality shoe leather. As NBAC said in its draft report in May, the NIH proposal will make all taxpayers “complicit in the death of embryos.”

NBAC is now paying the price for its candor. The NIH’s allies — especially those who wrote the thoroughly discredited NIH report on embryo research five years ago — now say that the Commission’s ethical insight is “politically imprudent,” and must be deleted from future drafts. So this week, NBAC suddenly canceled its scheduled second day of public discussion on this issue, to caucus behind closed doors to provide a politically correct — and useless — final document. So much for clear thinking on ethics, when it conflicts with the political bottom line.

The most tragic aspect of this campaign is that it is all so unnecessary. In the last six months, it has become undeniably clear that there are morally acceptable alternatives to embryonic stem cell research — alternatives that are medically as promising, or more promising, in the treatment of disease. Yet in order to justify this ideological campaign for harmful embryo research, the NIH and its allies have ignored or misrepresented these advances, which offer such great hope to the sick and suffering.

There is no conflict here between science and ethics. This is a struggle between ethically responsible science, and the irresponsible abuse of human life in the name of science. By every possible avenue, Congress should see to it that the former prevails.



Richard M. Doerflinger – Mr. Doerflinger is Associate Director for Policy Development at the Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities, National Conference of Catholic Bishops; and Adjunct Fellow in Bioethics and Public Policy at the National Catholic Bioethics Center. He has presented testimony on human embryo research before Congress, National Institutes of Health advisory groups, and the National Bioethics Advisory Commission. He has contributed articles on this and other medical-moral issues to Linacre Quarterly, Hastings Center Report, Duquesne Law Review, and Kennedy Institute of Ethics Journal (in press).