WASHINGTON (BP)–The President’s Council on Bioethics produced in many ways a commendable report April 1 on reproductive technologies but failed grievously on an issue of critical importance, pro-life bioethicists said.
The panel recommended greater self-regulation by the largely unregulated assisted reproduction industry, and it called for federally funded studies of the effect of reproductive technologies on women and children. Additionally, it urged federal bans on the creation of hybrid human-animal embryos, transfers of human embryos into the bodies of animals and the buying and selling of human embryos.
The council, however, recommended a prohibition on human embryo research only when 10 to 14 days have passed after fertilization.
By so doing, the panel “compromised on one of the most important debates of our day — the moral status of the human embryo,” said Ben Mitchell, a professor of bioethics at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in suburban Chicago.
“By recommending a ban on human embryo research, except on very young embryos, they have opened the door to embryo-destructive research,” said Mitchell, also a consultant for the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. “There is no way to close the door only partially. It will either be open or slammed shut. The council should have slammed the door, locked it and thrown away the key. Instead, they left a small crack that will either provide a line of sight through which to aim research guns at human embryos or will provide the leverage to thrust the research door open for Frankensteinian experimentation on the most vulnerable of our species.”
The report’s permission for research that results in death for early embryos is “morally reprehensible,” said Carrie Gordon Earll, a bioethicist and senior policy analyst for Focus on the Family in Colorado Springs. “Some may view this document as a reasonable compromise within an appointed body in which there is disagreement regarding the moral status of human embryos; we do not. Any public policy that expressly subjects members of the human family -– at any stage of development -– to nonconsensual human experimentation fails the highest test for protecting human life in society.”
The panel also chose not to call for a comprehensive ban on human cloning. It called for Congress to prohibit efforts to produce a child by cloning but did not make a specific recommendation on cloning for the purpose of experimentation.
Sen. Sam Brownback, R.-Kan., sponsor of a total ban on human cloning, said he agreed with a substantial portion of the report but was “disappointed the council endorsed recommendations that threaten human dignity at its beginnings,” The Washington Post reported.
The panel’s recommendations on the embryo research and cloning issues are certain to disappoint pro-life advocates in general. Bush, who has largely championed the pro-life cause, appointed the panel members, who include at least two staunch pro-life advocates, law professors Mary Ann Glendon of Harvard University and Robert George of Princeton University. Other panel members also have expressed support for a comprehensive ban on human cloning.
In a footnote, the report said, “Some members of the council are opposed to any experimentation that harms or destroys human embryos, but, recognizing that it is legal and active, they see the value in limiting the practice.”
Mitchell said, “We expected better than we got from the [panel]. We must be assured that we will get better than we expect from those lawmakers who read this report.
“If Americans — including pro-life Christians — do not raise their voices and shout for Congress to shut the door on all human embryo research and all human cloning, the space left open by the recommendation will eventually become a revolving door that opens the way to any imaginable research on human embryos.”
In the report, the council, which was first appointed two years ago, said the “fields of assisted reproduction, human genetics and embryo research are increasingly converging with one another.” It acknowledged there is no enforceable monitoring or regulation of reproductive technologies. The panel said it was not ready to suggest sweeping reforms. It called its report an interim one while more information is gathered. The recommendations it offered should be enacted immediately, the council said.
The report “has many very commendable recommendations,” Mitchell said. “Regulation of in-vitro fertilization clinics is long overdue. They have been conducting ethically questionable — in some cases even diabolical — research for years, without any regulatory oversight.”
The report, titled “Reproduction and Responsibility: The Regulation of New Biotechnologies,” may be accessed at the council’s website, www.bioethics.gov.