WASHINGTON (April 16, 1999) -- In testimony before the National Bioethics Advisory Commission, an official of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops said "the moral problem of encouraging the destruction of human embryos for their stem cells is independent of any possible benefit expected from such research."
"From the time of the Nuremberg Code, ethical norms on human experimentation have demanded that we never inflict death or disabling injury on any unconsenting individual of the human species simply for the sake of benefit to others," said Richard M. Doerflinger, Associate Director for Policy Development at the NCCB Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities.
Appearing before the National Bioethics Advisory Commission, meeting in Charlottesville, Virginia, April 16, Mr. Doerflinger said the Catholic Bishops of the United States believe that ethical review of recent proposals for human embryonic stem cell research "is both timely and important."
He noted that a Working Group at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) recently began revising guidelines for research on stem cells obtained by destroying live human embryos or harvesting tissue from abortion victims. According to Mr. Doerflinger, the Working Group sees its task as not to review the ethical issue of whether to proceed with such experiments, but only to prepare guidelines to implement an Administration decision that has already been made.
"Such experiments, however, pose grave moral problems; the proposed experiments requiring destruction of live human embryos for research purposes are not only grossly immoral but clearly contrary to the will of Congress," Mr. Doerflinger said. "Therefore we urge this Commission to expand its vision, to explore the serious moral problems in these proposals as well as the alternatives that can advance medical progress without demeaning human life and dignity."
"It is now clearer than ever that new research involving adult stem cells, as well as other advances in the repair and regeneration of human tissue, offers the promise that embryonic stem cells may simply be irrelevant to future medical progress," said Mr. Doerflinger, who submitted for the record background documentation on this point.
Stem cell research requiring the destructive harvesting of cells from living embryos fails the test of the Nuremberg Code and should not be supported by the government, Mr. Doerflinger said.
The Nuremberg Code was adopted in the wake of the war crimes trial after World War II. It states in part: "No experiment should be conducted where there is an a priori reason to believe that death or disabling injury will occur."
"Even if the Commission were to find this principled argument inconclusive, the existence of morally acceptable alternatives that do not require the destruction of a human life for research purposes would support the conclusion that support for embryo experimentation is unethical--because it needlessly relies on the destruction of life to advance medical goals which can be achieved in non-destructive ways," Mr. Doerflinger stated.
NOTE: The full text of Mr. Doerlinger's public comment to the National Bioethics Advisiory Commission is located on the Conference website. The internet address is http:// www.nccbuscc.org/prolife/issues/bioethic/nbac.htm.