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Ethics Panel Supports Human Embryo Study

May 23, 1999|From The Washington Post

WASHINGTON — A presidentially appointed ethics panel has decided to recommend that the federal government begin funding some research on human embryos, saying the moral cost of destroying embryos in research is outweighed by the social good that could come from the work.

Citing recent evidence that some human embryo cells have the potential to grow into replacement tissues to treat a wide variety of chronic diseases, the National Bioethics Advisory Commission has concluded that it is essentially unfair to millions of patients for Congress to continue its broad, 4-year-old funding ban on human embryo research.

Instead, federal rules should be written that ensure an appropriate measure of protection and respect for human embryos, according to a draft version of the report and interviews with commissioners and others. Those rules would allow federally financed researchers to conduct studies on leftover embryos from fertility clinics if the embryos were no longer wanted by the parents who made them.

"These are very difficult judgments to make, but it's a balancing act," said Harold T. Shapiro, chairman of the bioethics commission and president of Princeton University. "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."

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