The deadline for public comment on the
National Institute of Health’s draft guidelines for human embryonic
stem cell research has been extended
to Feb. 22. WorldNetDaily reported on Jan. 20
of the NIH’s solicitation of public comment just days before the
deadline was extended, purportedly to buy time to rally supporters of
the research who are being outnumbered two to one.
The comment period had been scheduled to end Jan. 31.
The NIH guidelines are a huge leap by the federal government into the
controversial research — but onlookers question whether that leap is
forward into progress or backward into moral decline.
Since 1996, federal law has banned federal funding of “research in
which a human embryo or human embryos are destroyed, discarded, or
knowingly subjected to risk of injury or death greater than that allowed
for fetuses in utero.” The new rules narrow the ban only to funding of
the specific act of destroying the embryo.
If the rules are approved, federally funded scientists will be able
to perform embryonic stem cell research if they obtain “documentation
that the embryos were created for the purpose of infertility treatment,”
and “documentation that the early human embryos were frozen and in
excess of clinical need.”
In other words, when a couple chooses to use in vitro fertilization,
several human embryos are created. Only one is implanted in the uterus,
leaving the others to be frozen or disposed of. Those “extra” embryos
are currently used by privately funded scientists for research
purposes. The NIH guidelines allow federally funded scientists to
solicit the stem cells from unused embryos in fertility clinics for
They also require that the couple give “informed consent” for their
embryo to be used in such research.
Specifically, the guidelines require that parents know the “early
human embryos donated will not be transferred to a woman’s uterus, will
not survive the human pluripotent stem cell derivation process, and will
be handled respectfully, as is appropriate for all human tissue used in
Rev. Msgr. Dennis N. Schnurr, general secretary of the National
Conference of Catholic Bishops wrote a
letter to the NIH in which he
outlines the Conference’s position. The guidelines “demean human life
and undermine longstanding federal policy on protection of human
subjects,” Schnurr charges.
“Even when authorizing federal funding for the use of fetal tissue
after induced abortions in 1993, Congress sought to ensure that
researchers receiving federal funds would not be involved in the
destruction of fetal life,” wrote Schnurr. “Fetal tissue — defined as
’tissue or cells obtained from a dead human embryo or fetus after a
spontaneous or induced abortion, or after a stillbirth’ — may be used
for ‘therapeutic purposes’ only if various safeguards are followed to
ensure that the researcher avoids participating in the abortion and does
not influence the ‘timing, method, or procedures used to terminate the
“In radical discontinuity with this tradition, the policy of the new
NIH guidelines is that human embryos outside the womb may be exploited
and killed as nothing more than ’tissue,’” Schnurr continued. “In
short, live human embryos are dismissed as mere ’tissue’ to be destroyed
for useful cells.”
The NIH lists several justifications for such destruction, one of
which is a reduction in the need to use “laboratory animals” for drug
“Under this policy,” said Schnurr, “far from being treated as a human
subject, the human embryo effectively ranks lower in status than a
But proponents of the guidelines point to potential benefits they
believe will result from human embryonic stem cell research.
The American Society for Cell Biology wrote in favor of the research, saying, “The
discovery of embryonic stem (ES) cells is a major scientific
breakthrough, the full value of which cannot be underestimated.”
Dr. Paul Berg, chair of ASCB’s public policy committee and the 1980
Nobel Laureate in chemistry, wrote a letter to the NIH that outlines potential
benefits from stem cell research including the replacement of bone
marrow for cancer treatment, production of pancreatic cells for
alleviating diabetes, treatments for Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s
diseases as well as various forms of brain and spinal cord disorders.
“We believe that the guidelines as proposed will enable this critical
research to advance while simultaneously protecting the moral and
ethical sensibilities of the American people,” wrote Berg.
The American Society for Cell Biology claims a critical result of the
guidelines is involvement by the federal government in research that has
been limited exclusively to private organizations.
“This gives the government more effective control over standards for
access to and use of stem cells and allows public debate and input into
the appropriate uses of this important scientific opportunity,” said the
But an ASCB spokesman said the guidelines do not go far enough.
Tim Leshan, director of public policy at ASCB, told WorldNetDaily
that federally funded scientists ought to be allowed to derive stem
cells in addition to using them.
Currently, the guidelines do not allow for the extraction of stem
cells from a human embryo. Rather, they allow only research on stem
cells already removed by privately funded scientists.
If the American Society for Cell Biology gets its way, tax dollars
will be used actually to remove stem cells from embryos, a process which
leaves the embryo lifeless.
That result, which research supporters say is not equivalent to death
– merely “non-viability” — has outraged pro-life groups around the
world who are opposing stem cell research and the new NIH guidelines.
Richard Doerflinger of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops,
told WorldNetDaily that some pro-life congressmen had asked for an
extension of the public comment period due to the congressional recess
which did not allow enough opportunity for comment.
According to Doerflinger, “The more likely reason for granting the
extension, though, can be found in recent panicked e-mails from the
He noted that comments against the guidelines are double the number
in favor, and that additional time is needed for the NIH to give its
allies more “time to load the mailbox.”
While Lesher said the federal government may have many reasons for
extending the deadline, he agreed that comments may largely have come
from opponents of the guidelines. It’s easier to stir up opposition to
a proposal than to garner letters of affirmation, he said.
The new deadline for public comment on the NIH guidelines is Feb.
22. Comments should be addressed to: Stem Cell Guidelines, NIH Office
of Science Policy, 1 Center Drive, Building 1, Room 218, Bethesda, MD
20892. Comments can be faxed to 301-402-0280 or emailed.
Julie Foster is a staff
reporter for WorldNetDaily.
New U.S. guidelines on embryo tests
See Joseph Farah’s column:
The return of Dr. Mengele
See Jane Chastain’s column:
Administration skirts law on killing embryo