AP Science Writer
7:34 PM EDT; August 23, 2000; Washington, D.C. (AP) -- New federal guidelines to allow Federal funding of human embryo cell research may prompt a revolution in medical science, leading to dramatic new ways to treat virtually every human disorder. But anti-abortion groups are vigorously opposed, saying the research means "you have to kill a human embryo." The National Institutes of Health guidelines, announced Wednesday, allow Federal funding for research with stem cells that have been removed from human embryos. The rules forbid research on the embryo itself, which is prohibited by Federal law. Experts say the effect will be that privately funded researchers will remove stem cells from embryos - which already has been done at two universities -- and that these stem cells then could be used in federally funded studies. Opponents quickly denounced Federal research with embryo cells. "You have to kill a human embryo to get them," said Douglas Johnson, legislative director of the National Right to Life Committee. He vowed: "There will be a legal challenge." Stem cells form very early in the gestation of a human being. They are the predecessors of all the tissues in the body -- the heart, brain, skin, and bone. Scientists have found that the embryonic stem cells can be prompted to evolve into the individual types of cells found in each of the organs of the body. President Clinton said the stem cells offer "potentially staggering benefits" for a wide variety of medical conditions.
Last week Great Britain's government said it would introduce legislation to allow similar research in that nation. Dr. John Gearhart of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore said research with lab mice had shown that stem cells can restore nerve tissue and some function following stroke or spinal cord injury. The cells can also regrow bone marrow lost to disease or radiation, he said. "We believe that stem cell research will enable us to treat many diseases in a whole new way," said Dr. Paul Berg, a Nobel laureate from Stanford University. Some researchers believe it may eventually be possible to nurture stem cells into whole new organs. They talk of growing new hearts and lungs and livers to restore health to ailing humans. Research into such possibilities, said Gearhart, "will move forward more rapidly" under the new guidelines. The new guidelines "will enable research to advance without violating the ethical sensibilities of the American people," said Berg. "It would be immoral not to pursue this research within the bounds of these guidelines." Johnson, however, said: "It is research that must start with the death of a human embryo." He said that even though the actual death of the embryo is not funded by the government, the stem cell research prompts the death. Under the terms of the guidelines:
She said time will not allow any stem-cell research proposal to be approved before next January, probably after a new president is installed. Berg said embryos used in the study generally would have been destroyed as clinically surplus. Contrary to what some opponents contended, said Berg, the stem cells "are not embryos and could not themselves be developed into embryos." Researchers have long been fascinated with stem cells, but the interest quickened in recent years when Gearhart and other researchers first isolated and cultured human stem cells from human embryos.
The development prompted then NIH Director Dr. Harold Varmus to take a close look at agency rules that limited research with human embryos. Departmental lawyers later concurred with his position that stem cell research could be funded because the rules specifically excluded embryos. New guidelines were proposed last year and published in the Federal Register. "The NIH received approximately 50,000 comments from members of Congress, patient advocacy groups, scientific societies, religious organizations, and private citizens," the agency said in a statement.
At least 60 members of Congress opposed the new guidelines, along with most anti-abortion organizations. Rep. J. C. Watts Jr., R-Okla., said, "This decision is a sad day for America, as the sanctity of life has yet again been denigrated by the Clinton-Gore administration." [Editor's Note: Rep. Jay Dickey, R-Ark. has stated, "We do not think that the law [passed by Congress in 1996 that states " no Federal funds may be used for studies in which human embryos are destroyed, discarded, or knowingly subjected to risk of injury or death."] is ambiguous; and if they [the NIH] still want to pursue it, we are going to have to consider legal remedies [like attaching NIH appropriations bills]."]
However, the guidelines got quick support from scientific groups, such as the American Society for Cell Biology, and from patient advocacy groups, such as the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation International.
Embryo Cell Research
Associated Press Writer
1:21 PM EDT; August 24, 2000; Vatican City (AP) -- The Vatican condemned research using cells from human embryos as " gravely immoral" on Thursday, a day after the Clinton Administration allowed federal funding for stem cell research. "A good end doesn't make good an action that, in itself, is bad," the Vatican's Pontifical Academy for Life wrote, noting that removing cells would kill an embryo. The Roman Catholic church teaches that life begins at conception and must be safeguarded from that point. It "is a gravely immoral, and thus gravely illicit, act," the document said. It also said cloning to produce embryos from which to take stem cells is also "illicit."
President Clinton praised stem cell research, saying it offers "potentially staggering benefits" for a wide variety of medical conditions. New guidelines were announced Wednesday allowing federal funding for research with stem cells removed from embryos. It does not allow research on the embryos themselves. The Vatican academy did not dispute the hope that stem cell research offers, and it encouraged the use of cells from adults instead of embryos, which it called "the more reasonable and humane step." "Is it morally legitimate to produce and/or use living human embryos for the preparation of stem cells?," the academy asked. "The answer is negative."
Last week, the Vatican condemned British plans to ease a ban on human cloning to allow cloning for research on embryos and stem cells. The Vatican academy, whose members include both Roman Catholic and non-Catholic scientists, was set up by Pope John Paul II in 1994 to help the Vatican understand biomedical issues entwined with ethics. The Pope himself might soon speak out about stem cell research. The Vatican said Thursday he will address a scientific conference in Rome next week on transplant advances, including cloning possibilities.
On the Web: www.vatican.va .