WASHINGTON (January 26, 1999) -- A recent Clinton Administration assertion regarding embryo research overlooks important facts, including federal law, according to an official of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops in testimony before a Senate subcommittee today.
Richard M. Doerflinger, associate director for policy development at the NCCB's Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities, drew attention to a January 19 legal memorandum by the Department of Health and Human Services. The memo claims that under current law federal funds can pay for research using stem cells from deliberately destroyed human embryos so long as the federal funds do not directly pay for the act of destroying embryos.
In making that assertion, Doerflinger said, "HHS has overlooked some obvious facts, and created its own arbitrary definition of a human embryo that has no basis in biology or federal law."
Current federal law, Doerflinger told members of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, bars federal funding of any research project in which human embryos are destroyed. Thus federal funds cannot be used for any part of a project whose existence depends on the destructive harvesting of cells from embryos.
Even a current law allowing the use of fetal tissue from induced abortions for federally funded research, he said, forbids researchers to influence an abortion decision or to alter the method of abortion to serve the purposes of research. The law allows researchers to harvest tissue only after an unborn child is dead. By contrast, he said, "harvesting of embryonic stem cells is not done after the embryo is killed; it is precisely what kills the embryo."
Mr. Doerflinger urged Congress to "devote its funds to stem cell techniques and other promising avenues of research that in no way depend upon such killing."
Today's hearing is the third in a series of Senate hearings on scientific, ethical and legal aspects of embryonic stem cells -- versatile cells which researchers believe may be grown in culture and adapted to replace many kinds of diseased or damaged human tissue. Scientists believed until recently that stem cells obtained by destroying live embryos were uniquely capable of producing all the many kinds of cells and tissues in the human body; but research published this month in the journal Science suggests that adult stem cells can be equally versatile under the right conditions.