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Pro-lifers applaud change covering embryos in research

WASHINGTON (BP)–Pro-life leaders have praised the Bush administration’s directive to an advisory panel that could recommend protection for embryos as “human subjects” in research.

It was revealed Oct. 30 the administration has changed the charter for a federal committee that deals with the safety of research subjects, saying the welfare of embryos should be considered along with that of more developed unborn babies, children and adults in medical experiments. Although the change has not been announced by the Department of Health and Human Services, it was reported in The Washington Post.

“All pro-lifers should commend the Bush administration for extending the legal protections of human beings to human embryos involved in federally funded scientific research,” said Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. “It is one more among a growing number of significant actions taken by the Bush administration to make it clear that at least the executive branch of our federal government understands and believes that a human embryo is a human being.”

Rep. Chris Smith, R.-N.J., commended the president “for recognizing that human embryos should not be treated as property to be exploited for financial gain. This is a good example of using a scientific criteria to make sure all human life is considered valuable when determining what protections should govern human experimentation.”

The charter change does not require the protection of embryos, but the committee can recommend such protection to HHS, according to The Post. HHS, however, can issue rules or push for legislation to protect embryos, The Post reported.

The new language was included when the committee was re-established Oct. 1 as the Secretary’s Advisory Committee on Human Research Protections, according to the newspaper. The Clinton administration instituted the advisory panel as the National Human Research Protections Advisory Committee, but its charter was permitted to lapse in September, The Post reported.

The charter says the panel “will provide advice relating to the responsible conduct of research involving human subjects with particular emphasis on … pregnant women, embryos and fetuses” and other “populations” of human research subjects, according to The Post.

The move was not without its critics.

“This could be the next step in according embryos new legal rights and the status of the person under the law. We’re seeing the politicization of what should be a scientific advisory committee,” lawyer Marcy Wilder told The Post. Wilder formerly was deputy general counsel at HHS.

Bioethics specialist Nigel Cameron said there was no reason for criticism of the change, since the charter already includes fetuses.

“This change simply recognizes that the focus in human subject research has shifted decisively to work on human embryos,” said Cameron, director of The Council for Biotechnology Policy, in a written statement. “It is disingenuous of proponents of abortion choice to see this as simply a pro-life victory. Indeed, it is unhelpful for either ‘side’ to see it simply in those terms. … Yes, embryos are human subjects, and whatever the law says on abortion, we need to protect them, like the fetuses — their big brothers and sisters — from experimental abuse.”

Embryos have become an increasing focus of research in recent years, especially as some scientists have obtained stem cells from them in order to research their usefulness in treating some debilitating diseases. Procuring embryonic stem cells results in the destruction of the embryo.

No appointments to the new advisory committee have been announced.

In September, the Bush administration expanded coverage under the State Children’s Health Insurance Program to include unborn children. The new rule allows states to provide coverage to low-income, pregnant women for their preborn children.