WASHINGTON (August 31, 2001) -- An official of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) said a proposal to revise federal regulations governing research should treat the human embryo outside the womb as a human subject.
"This would be in full accord with President Bush's announced policy on human embryo research," said Mark E. Chopko, General Counsel of the USCCB.
In his nationally televised speech on August 9, the President announced his opposition to "providing taxpayer funding that would sanction or encourage further destruction of human embryos that have at least the potential for life," noting that approval for such funding would require "crossing a fundamental moral line."
"This Administration should incorporate into its regulations on human research the principle that this line should not be crossed," Mr. Chopko said. "As President Bush added in a subsequent opinion column, in which he affirmed the value of human life even in its earliest stages: 'Seeking noble ends by any means is unacceptable when life itself is in the balance.'"
Mr. Chopko wrote (August 31) to Dr. Irene Stith-Coleman, Office of Human Research Protections, Department of Health and Human Services.
At issue is a draft Proposal which would revise regulations on protection of human research subjects--pregnant women, human fetuses, and neonates-- that have governed federally funded research with little change since 1975. A revision of these regulations was proposed as a Final Rule by the Clinton Administration on January 17 (the "January rule"), but suspended and further revised by the Bush Administration.
"Generally the Bush Administration's revisions to the January rule are welcome improvements," Mr. Chopko said. For example, the revisions "recognize the child who has left the womb alive as a newborn child ('neonate'), setting aside the contradictory phrase 'fetus ex utero' used in these regulations since 1975."
However, Mr. Chopko also said that in some key respects these revisions do not go far enough. He said the Proposal fails to incorporate important policy decisions made on this issue by Congress and the Executive Branch in recent years; retains certain features of the January rule which may weaken protections for the fetal research subject as compared with the 1975 regulations; and retains features of the original regulations that are even more unwarranted and morally controversial than the longstanding problem of terminology regarding "fetuses ex utero."
"We believe the time has come to assure the American people that ethical limits on harmful human research will not be nullified in specific cases, simply because researchers feel that the research is too useful to be left undone," Mr. Chopko stated. "In this regard the federal government should set an important example of giving the highest priority to the life and dignity of the human subject, especially when human life is in its most vulnerable stages."
The full text of the letter is available at www.usccb.org/ogc/hhsregs.shtml.