Commission Recommends Taxpayer Funding of Experiments on Stem Cells from Embryonic Babies

On Monday, September 13, 1999, the National Bioethics Advisory Commission (NBAC) issued the final draft of a report urging Congress to lift the ban on federal financing of biomedical research involving stem cells derived from embryonic babies. It is important to note that the chairman of the commission is Harold Shapiro, President of Princeton University, where, on July 1, Peter Singer, an apologist for infanticide, was installed as the university’s first full-time tenured professor of bioethics. Mr. Singer, an Australian, believes the following, as quoted from his book Practical Ethics: "Human babies are not born self-aware, or capable of grasping that they exist over time. They are not persons." But animals are self-aware, and therefore, "the life of a newborn is of less value than the life of a pig, a dog, or a chimpanzee." (A Professor Who Argues for Infanticide, by Nat Hentoff, The Washington Post, 9/11/99) With leadership like that of Mr. Shapiro we shouldn’t be surprised that the NBAC has so little regard for the tiniest of humans.

House Majority Leader Dick Armey, in response to the commission’s report, issued a short but very welcome statement on September 14. This Commission couldn’t be more wrong. What they call medical research is, in fact, an abuse of precious human embryos. If I have it my way this report will be DOA when it goes to Congress.

RNC/Life will cooperate in every way with Mr. Armey’s efforts to prevent removal of the ban on federal funding of research using stem cells derived from embryonic babies, most of whom are leftovers from in-vitro fertilization efforts. We urge Congressman Armey and pro-life Republicans and Democrats in Congress to move quickly toward a total ban on human embryo experimentation across the board, not only in taxpayer-funded medical centers, university research facilities, and government installations but private institutions as well, including those operated by the pharmaceutical industry.

The Coalition of Americans for Research Ethics issued a press release on September 14 calling on Congress to reject the NBAC report. It said that, the 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’s ethical reasoning only becomes more confused when it concludes that destroying [killing] ‘spare’ embryos is relatively unproblematic, since such embryos will be destroyed [killed] 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. 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.

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.

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