Bioethicists and pro-life activists are criticizing recently proposed guidelines from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) regarding federally funded stem-cell research.
Some charge the NIH with skirting ethical dilemmas about embryo destruction by allowing research using stem cells from aborted fetal tissue or from embryos intended for in-vitro fertilization.
A coalition of Christians who are scientists and bioethicists released a statement last summer against using human embryos in stem-cell research.
Harold Varmus, director of the NIH, says federal funding of embryonic stem-cell research does not violate the federal ban on research involving human embryos. He says the stem cells used for research are not toti-potent (able to generate an entire embryo) but are pluripotent (able to generate many types of cells that produce bone tissue).
Varmus considers the new guidelines within the bounds of federal law because stem cells used in federal research projects must be harvested by privately funded scientists, and they must be donated, not paid for with federal funds.
But critics say the new NIH guidelines in effect use the ends to justify the means and violate the intent of the research ban.
"Ethical and scientific evaluation of an experiment takes into account both the method and the materials used in the research process," reads a statement from Trinity International University's Bioethics Center. "Therefore the source of stem cells obtained for research is scientifically and ethically relevant."
"The obvious intent of Congress was not merely to prohibit the use of federal funds for embryo destruction," says Linda K. Bevington, director of research at Trinity's Bioethics Center, "but to prohibit the use of such funds for research ...1
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