Chicago, Illinois -- In tomorrow's New England Journal of Medicine a letter to the editor will be published calling previous Journal articles addressing the ethics of "therapeutic" cloning and embryonic stem cell research "inadequate."
The letter is signed by a number of experts including C. Everett Koop, M.D., former Surgeon General, and other leading doctors and bioethicists. The entire text of the letter is below:
To the Editor: In the May 16 issue, three articles deal with public policy in stem cell research. The authors of all three articles agree that reproductive cloning should be banned but that therapeutic cloning (i.e., nuclear transplantation to produce human embryos as sources of stem cells) should be permitted.
Annas justifies this compromise politically as the only way to avoid the dangers of unrestrained research.(1) Evers thinks that abuses could be prevented if European and other models of regulation could be globalized.(2) Weissman suggests that scientists are best qualified to make informed decisions on the matter because of their ability to understand fully the potential benefits of scientific and medical research.(3)
We find these articles to be seriously inadequate. Each fails to devote sufficient attention to the inevitable death of the human embryo that occurs when the embryo's stem cells are harvested. Millions of Americans do not accept the utilitarian argument that the potential benefits of research cloning justify the intentional destruction of the embryo. Yet Weissman and others seek to dispel concerns about embryonic sacrifice with the simple protest that preventing embryonic destruction would impede medical research and thereby rob people of the means to improve and prolong their lives.(4)
Approaches to the formation of public policy that esteem scientific potential but fail to give sufficient weight to all basic ethical considerations are profoundly troubling, and attempts to dismiss those who oppose embryonic destruction simply by pointing to the good that may result are chilling. Although we applaud the desire to pursue therapies for human afflictions, a utilitarian perspective that allows science and medicine to trump ethics in the name of furthering medical benefit is exceedingly dangerous and will eventually result in grave consequences. Any serious consideration of the issues raised by research cloning must engage all basic ethical arguments against such a prospect, rather than merely dismiss them or regard them as secondary in importance.
Inclusion in the Journal of material that grapples seriously with often-neglected ethical issues raised by research cloning would have resulted in a better assessment of this highly contentious topic. The Center for Bioethics and Human Dignity and Georgetown's Center for Clinical Bioethics offer such material (5) --not to hold back science but to encourage it to proceed in an ethical fashion. Our society must not subjugate basic ethical considerations to scientific and medical progress, lest we all become subjects mastered by our own technological prowess.
Signed by : Edmund D. Pellegrino, M.D. - Georgetown University
John F. Kilner, Ph.D. - The Center for Bioethics and Human
Kevin T. FitzGerald, Ph.D. - Georgetown University
Linda K. Bevington, M.A. - The Center for Bioethics and Human Dignity
C. Ben Mitchell, Ph.D. - Ethics & Medicine Journal
C. Everett Koop, M.D. - C. Everett Koop Institute
1. Annas GJ. Cloning and the U.S. Congress. N Engl J Med 2002;346:1599-1602.
2. Evers K. European perspectives on therapeutic cloning. N Eng J Med 2002;346:1579-1582.
3. Weissman IL. Stem cells scientific, medical, and political issues. N Eng J Med 2002;346:1576-1579.
4. CBHD home page, Bannockburn, IL. The Center for Bioethics and Human Dignity, 2002. (Accessed October 11, 2002, at http://www.cbhd.org)
5. Edmund Pellegrino's June 2000 testimony before the National Bioethics Advisory Commission in: Ethical issues in human stem cell research. Vol. 3. Rockville, MD: National Bioethics Advisory Commission. 2000:F3-5.