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Panel’s support for embryo research is ‘cannibalism,’ ERLC’s Land says

WASHINGTON (BP)–A presidential commission’s support for funding research on some human embryos in order to develop treatments for various diseases amounts to “biotechnical cannibalism,” the head of the Southern Baptist Convention’s ethics agency said.
The National Bioethics Advisory Commission will recommend in June the federal government should provide grants for research on unwanted embryos left at fertility clinics, The Washington Post reported. The commission has decided the benefits of seeking to cure some major diseases outweigh the ethical problem of destroying embryos, according to The Post, which based its article on a draft of the report and on interviews with some of the panel’s 17 members.
“This research is allied with a noble cause, and any taint that might attach from the source of the stem cells [primitive cells with vast healing potential] diminishes in proportion to the potential good which the research may yield,” the draft report says, according to The Post.
“These are very difficult judgments to make, but it’s a balancing act,” said Harold Shapiro, chairman of the panel and president of Princeton University, The Post reported. “We have moral obligations to the future health and welfare of people, and we need to balance these with, at the very least, the symbolic moral obligation we have to the embryo.”
The commission’s reported recommendation is “outrageous and dangerous,” said Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.
“When you cut to the bottom line, what the president’s advisory commission is advocating is publicly funded research which will develop technology that will allow us to kill human babies and cloned embryos of ourselves in order to harvest their cells to make treatments to improve our health,” said Land, a graduate of Princeton.
“That is nothing less than biotechnical cannibalism in which we literally devour our young to sustain and improve our own health. To call that barbaric is to insult barbarians. To seek to force to make the American public to pay for that research is totally and completely unacceptable.”
Chuck Donovan, executive vice president of the Family Research Council, called Shapiro’s reasoning a clear display of the “utilitarian ethic.”
“The sanctity of life is a duty far deeper than some mere ‘symbolic moral obligation,'” Donovan said in a written statement. “It is one of those principles that we try to ‘balance’ only at our peril. This kind of ‘balance’ tips us into a moral abyss.”
The impetus for such experimentation increased in November when it was announced stem cells had been isolated from human embryos for the first time. Stem cells are able to divide and to develop into most of the cells or tissues in the body. Scientists are hopeful they can be used to produce cells and tissues as replacements in treating such conditions as Parkinson’s disease, heart disease, diabetes, spinal cord injuries, strokes and burns.
After the announcement of the landmark achievement, the National Institutes of Health said it would fund research on stem cells obtained by privately financed means. The NIH decision drew opposition from Congress, which has a ban on the funding of human embryo research. In February, 70 members of the House of Representatives wrote to Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala asking her to reverse the NIH decision. One of the funding ban’s drafters, Rep. Jay Dickey, R.-Ark., has said he has no intention of lifting it. The ban must be renewed each year.
Meanwhile, new research has shown stem cells can be taken from adults as well. Pro-lifers have not expressed opposition to such stem-cell research because it does not violate the sanctity of human life. They have also said this discovery makes the destruction of embryos to extract stem cells unnecessary.
The National Bioethics Advisory Commission, whose members were selected by President Clinton, says in its draft report federal funds should go only for research on embryos produced by in vitro fertilization, according to The Post. If any frozen embryos remain after a couple ends attempts to become pregnant, they may be made available for federally funded research after the parents have decided independently not to use them, the newspaper reported May 23.
Following such guidelines, the parents, not the government, would be “morally responsible” for the embryos’ destruction, the panel’s draft report says, according to The Post.