WASHINGTON (February 1, 2000) -- The General Secretary of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops/United States Catholic Conference (NCCB/USCC) said proposed NIH guidelines to fund research on stem cells obtained by destroying human embryos demean human life and undermine longstanding federal policy on protection of human subjects.
Msgr. Dennis M. Schnurr made this observation January 31 in comments on a regulatory proposal by the NIH.
The proposed guidelines, for the first time in the nation's history, would authorize the federal government to approve and regulate the destruction of innocent human life for research purposes. The guidelines instruct researchers in how to harvest versatile "stem cells" from living week-old human embryos, a procedure which kills the embryos. They also establish standards for harvesting similar cells from dead unborn children following induced abortions.
"The proposed guidelines are not designed to implement longstanding federal policy on research involving human subjects, which has been reflected in federal laws and regulations for 25 years," Msgr. Schnurr stated. "Rather, the guidelines seek to reverse that policy in doing so they violate fundamental moral norms on human experimentation and fall far beyond the proper authority of the National Institutes of Health."
Msgr. Schnurr said the guidelines' effort to justify destructive experiments on donated embryos from fertility clinics, on the grounds they were deemed "in excess of clinical need," runs contrary to Congress's insistence that unborn children intended for abortion be treated with the same resepct in federally funded research as children intended for live birth.
"The guidelines' policy of allowing federally funded researchers themselves to destroy live embryos for their stem cells (so long as private funds are used for the act of destruction) contradicts statutory safeguards on fetal tissue, which forbid researchers to harvest tissue from live embryos or fetuses or to participate in or influence an abortion that may produce tissue for research," Msgr. Schnurr said.
According to Msgr.Schnurr, the proposed guidelines violate the Fiscal Year 2000 Consolidated Appropriations Act, signed by the President on Nov. 29, 1999, which continued the federal ban on use of appropriated moneys for "research in which a human embryo or embryos are destroyed, discarded or knowingly subjected to risk of injury or death greater than that allowed for fetuses in utero" under existing regulation and statute.
"In short, the guidelines permit precisely what Congress and the President forbade with passage and signing of the Appropriations Act: the use of federal taxpayer dollars for research that involves the killing of human embryos," Msgr. Schnurr stated.
The NCCB/USCC official also noted that the guidelines ignore alternative means for stem cell research--means that do not involve embryonic cells. He cited research confirming the versatility of adult stem cells, supplemented by new advances in "immortalizing" adult cell cultures and by progress in maintaining adult stem cells in a relatively undifferentiated state for months at a time. "Any approach involving the adaptation and use of a patient's own stem cells would circumvent all problems of tissue rejection, which pose a serious barrier to the transplantation of foreign stem cells into patients," Msgr. Schnurr said.
Noting that the guidelines set the stage for further abuses involving the creation and destruction of life for research purposes, he said: "We believe the NIH's only morally and legally responsible course is to withdraw the guidelines on stem cells derived from early human embryos."
The full text of Msgr. Schnurr's comments is available on request.