Administration Skirts Law on Killing Embryos

by Jane Chastain

Bill Clinton has shown no respect for the law. Neither do the leaders of his administration. Clinton's lawyers apologized to members of the United States Senate for all the legal hair splitting as they made the case for his defense in the impeachment trial. Meanwhile, Dr. Harold Varmus, the director of the National Institutes of Health, was splitting a few hairs of his own.

On Tuesday, Jan. 19, Dr. Varmus announced that the NIH is preparing to fund research on embryonic "pluripotent stem cells." This research involves the deliberate killing of living human embryos, and government funding of this research clearly is against the law. In 1995, Congress banned the use of federal funds for research "in which a human embryo or embryos are destroyed, discarded, or knowingly subjected to risk of injury or death greater than that allowed for research on fetuses in utero (that is research on babies living in their mother's wombs, which is considered 'minimal risk')."

The NIH asserts that research on embryonic stem cells does not violate the ban "because such cells are not an embryo as defined by the state" and "do not have the capacity to develop into a human being." Well, of course not! However, this research does involve killing these tiny human beings in order to harvest their cells for this research.

There is no law that prevents privately funded research on human embryos. That's how these stem cells first were isolated last year. The NIH intends to skirt the law by having someone not using government grant money do the killing or having the researcher clock out and do the killing on his own time.

If questioned, no doubt the researcher will say, "No one asked me to do the killing, nor was I promised money from the government for doing this killing," and he or she would be technically correct, if you buy the hair-splitting defense.

If members of the Senate let Mr. Clinton off with this kind of defense we can expect more of the same from members of his administration, and these senators will have shown that they have as little regard for the law as he does.

ACTION: To protest the use of human embryo research, contact your member of Congress. You can also contact Dr. Varmus at

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