National Academies To Release Ethical Guidelines for Embryonic Stem Cell Research
The National Academies -- the nation's leading scientific advisory board -- on Tuesday is expected to release a report outlining proposed ethical guidelines for human embryonic stem cell research, including the recommendation that all institutions engaged in such research establish oversight committees, the Wall Street Journal reports. The 131-page report, which was reviewed by the Journal in advance of its public release, contains more than 50 specific recommendations for institutions conducting the research and is expected to help states and private research firms "move forward" with the research despite the "continuing debate" over federal funding for embryonic stem cell research, the Journal reports (Regalado/Dumcius, Wall Street Journal, 4/26).
President Bush's embryonic stem cell policy -- which he announced on Aug. 9, 2001 -- limits federal funding for embryonic stem cell research to stem cell lines created on or before that date. Critics of Bush's policy have said that the embryonic stem cell lines available for federally funded research are not biologically diverse, are contaminated with nonhuman material and are useless for research into possible cures for degenerative diseases. However, opponents of the research say it is immoral because it destroys human embryos (California Healthline, 4/7).
The report's primary recommendation is that all institutions studying embryonic stem cells establish oversight committees that include experts on the scientific, legal and ethical issues of the research, as well as members of the public, the Journal reports. The report takes its "strictest stance" on human egg donation, saying that women should never be paid to donate eggs for embryonic stem cell research, the Journal reports.
The guidelines also advise against injecting human stem cells into the embryos of other primates and recommend that all institutions involved in research in which human and animal cells are combined review such experiments. The academies also "reiterated" its opposition to human reproductive cloning, the Journal reports.
"Academic institutions are looking for just this kind of guidance," Keith Yamamoto, a senior medical school dean at the University of California-San Francisco and adviser to the academies, said, adding, "I think this report will really bring to the front discussion and debate about how we should be governing the research."
Although Robert Lanza, medical director for Advanced Cell Technology, said adopting the academies' recommendations could be difficult for small biotechnology companies, he agreed that national guidelines on the research are needed. However, he added that the report's recommendation that payment for egg donors be banned is concerning because many researchers believe that "compensation for a woman's time and inconvenience is the fair and right thing to do" as long as payments are not coercive.
Rep. Michael Castle (R-Del.), sponsor of legislation (HR 810) that would ease federal funding restrictions on human embryonic stem cell research, praised the academies' report, saying that the guidelines are "absolutely critical to ensure an effective and ethical approach to embryonic stem cell research" (Wall Street Journal, 4/26).