.- Ten members of the Presidentâs Council on Bioethics have issued a statement seeking to âclarifyâ President Barack Obamaâs comments on human embryonic stem cell research. The council members said Obamaâs policy is âa step backwardâ because it fails to reconcile the needs of research and moral concerns.
Noting that new forms of stem cell research do not involve killing human embryos, the council members also warned that the presidentâs policy could permit funding for human cloning while requiring that clones be killed.
The ten members who signed the March 25 statement were Gilbert Meilaender, Paul McHugh, Benjamin Carson, Nicholas Eberstadt, Jean Bethke Elshtain, Alfonso GÃ³mez-Lobo, William Hurlbut, Donald Landry, Peter Lawler, and Diana Schaub.
The members said that President Obama made an inaccurate characterization when he said his executive order lifted the ban on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research (ESCR).
âThe policy announced by President Bush on August 9, 2001, did not ban federal funding of embryonic stem cell research; rather, for the first time, it provided and endorsed such funding (as long as the stem cell lines had been derived prior to that date),â the statement said.
Some pro-lifers had criticized Bushâs decision as an unacceptable compromise that would lead to further destruction of human embryos if the research progressed.
The council members said Bushâs policy was an attempt âto seek a way for science to proceed without violating the deep moral convictions of many of our fellow citizens.â
âAttention to the ethical principles that ought to guide and limit scientific research has been constant since the end of World War II. Different kinds of research have been limited, and sometimes prohibited, not in order to suppress science but in order to free it as a genuinely human and moral activity,â the group said.
Citing the Presidentâs Council on Bioethics 2005 document âAlternative Sources of Human Pluripotent Stem Cells,â the council membersâ statement said researchers had advanced in other alternative methods. They also noted that The New York Times said in March that the embryonic stem cell research promoted by President Obama âhas been somewhat eclipsed by new advances.â
The National Bioethics Advisory Commission, active under the Clinton administration, itself held that embryo-destructive research is justifiable âonly if no less morally problematic alternatives are available for advancing the research.â
âSuch alternatives are now available, and research on them is advancing,â the council membersâ March 25 statement said. âWith respect to the progress that had been made in reconciling the needs of research and the moral concerns of many Americans, we can only judge, therefore, that the presidentâs action has taken a step backward, and we regret that.â
Turning to President Obamaâs March 9 remarks on cloning, the statement said that the presidentâs new policy would permit federal funding of research on stem cells from âspareâ IVF embryos but also on lines derived from created or cloned embryos.
âIn the latter two cases, we would be producing embryos simply in order to use them for our purposes,â the statement said, warning that the Presidentâs opposition to cloning for human reproduction could require the destruction of existing human embryos.
An earlier bioethics council document, âHuman Cloning and Human Dignity,â warned that preventing cloning for reproductive purposes would require a law prohibiting the implantation of cloned embryos for the purpose of producing children.
ââTo do so, however, the government would find itself in the unsavory position of designating a class of embryos that it would be a felony not to destroy,ââ the document notes.
âWe cannot believe that this would advance our societyâs commitment to equal human dignity,â the council membersâ March 25 statement said.
In a separate personal statement, Presidentâs Council on Bioethics member Edmund D. Pellegrino voiced his individual support for âthe substance of the objections of some council members to recent relaxation of existing policies regarding human embryonic stem cell research.â
âEthically, I cannot support any policy permitting deliberate production and/or destruction of a human fetus or embryo for any purpose, scientific or therapeutic.â