With virtually unanimous support from the American medical profession, Congress is finally discovering the resolve to take long-overdue action to allow promising research on Parkinson's disease, diabetes, spinal cord injuries, epilepsy, muscular dystrophy, hemophilia and a host of other disorders.
The House Energy and Commerce Committee last week approved a bill to reauthorize the National Institutes of Health. Title I of the bill, tirelessly sponsored by Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Los Angeles), would lift a three-year ban, imposed by the Reagan Administration and continued by the Bush Administration, on research involving the transplantation of human fetal tissue. Grafts using this tissue have shown great promise in treating these devastating diseases.
The NIH reauthorization bill now moves to the House floor, where a vote is expected late this summer. But the committee action split generally along party lines, signaling that sponsors may have difficulty getting a veto-proof majority from both houses of Congress. Again pandering to anti-abortion factions, President Bush has promised to veto the bill if it reaches his desk with the mandate lifting the ban.
Opponents of Waxman's Title I fear that women may have abortions solely to profit from selling their aborted fetus. Such reasoning is macabre to say the least and completely ill-founded. Safe- guards in this legislation would make this practice impossible; neither women nor their attending physicians could receive compensation for aborted fetuses and no directed donations of fetal tissue would be possible.
For supporters of fetal tissue transplant research, the issue is one of research freedom--allowing scientists to pursue the most promising leads to cure these cruel diseases and to do so irrespective of ideology and party agendas. The ban is also hypocritical: The government continues to permit the use of human fetal tissue in test-tube research. The distinction between the use of this same tissue in test tubes and in transplants eludes logic. And for the many afflicted Americans who might be helped by such research, the distinction is cruelly without justification.