STEM CELL RESEARCH: NIH Releases New Guidelines
As expected, the NIH yesterday released revised guidelines allowing for federal funding of stem cell research. According to an NIH release, the guidelines were developed in a "careful and deliberate way to assure that the ethical, legal and social issues relevant to human pluripotent stem cell research are addressed prior to NIH funding of that research." The guidelines stipulate the necessary documentation to accompany NIH funding requests for embryonic tissue, establish the criteria for informed consent, create a Human Pluripotent Stem Cell Review Group to review documentation of guideline compliance, and delineate areas of research that are not eligible for NIH funding. The guidelines will be published in the Federal Register on August 25 (NIH Release, 8/23).
President Clinton "strongly endorsed" the new guidelines, touting the "potentially staggering benefits" of stem cell research, which could lead to treatments for spinal cord injuries, diabetes, Parkinson's disease and other neurological disorders. But critics have vowed to fight the guidelines. A sample of the reactions appears below.
- Clinton: Calling the possible benefits of stem cell research "breathtaking," he said, "I think we cannot walk away from the potential to save lives and improve lives, to help people literally get up and walk, to do all kinds of things we could have never imagined, as long as we meet rigorous, ethical standards."
- Texas Gov. George W. Bush (R): He "made clear" his opposition to the NIH rules, and according to a spokesperson, "[Bush] opposes federal funding for stem cell research that involves destroying a living human embryo."
- Vice President Al Gore: According to a spokesperson, he "supports the recommendations."
- Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.): Citing a four-year-old congressional amendment that bans research where "embryos are destroyed, discarded or knowingly subjected to risk of injury or death," he criticized the NIH for its "transparent" attempt to bypass the measure with "legal sophistry."
- Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa): He praised the new guidelines, noting, "The potential benefits of stem cell research are truly awe-inspiring" (Weiss, Washington Post, 8/24).
- William Saunders of the Family Research Council: Calling the human embryo "a living being with a destiny and a purpose," he charged the government with "extinguishing the torch of the smallest in our tribe."
- Actor Christopher Reeve, a leading lobbyist for embryonic research: Testifying before Congress in April, he asked, "Is it more ethical for a woman to donate unused embryos that will never become human beings or to let them be tossed away?"
- Rep. Jay Dickey (R-Ark.): He has promised legislation to block research, arguing that "there is no difference between dismembering an embryonic cell and dismembering a person" (Kennedy, New York Daily News, 8/24).
- Douglas Johnson of the National Right to Life Committee: He said, "Once the NIH has crossed the line and decided to treat living embryos as something less than human beings, then anything goes" (Zitner, Los Angeles Times, 8/24).
- Richard Doerflinger of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops: Calling the new federal guidelines a "falsification of science in the name of politics," he added, "We could greatly expand funding of ... alternatives that have no moral problem and enormous promise," such as using adult stem cells in research (Reuters Health, 8/23).