Killing Human Embryos for Research Essay

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Recent developments highlight a point made by opponents of embryonic stem cell research for years: Once our consciences are numbed to the moral wrong of using so-called "spare" human embryos for research, our society will move on to even more egregious abuses. The Jones Institute for Reproductive Medicine in Virginia has announced that it is using donated eggs and sperm to create human embryos solely to destroy them for stem cell research.( S. Stolberg, "Scientists Create Scores of Embryos to Harvest Cells," The New York Times, July 11, 2001 at A1.) Moreover, Advanced Cell Technology (ACT) in Massachusetts has announced it is trying to make human embryos by somatic cell nuclear transfer (cloning) for the same purpose.

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It is illegal because it violates an appropriations rider (the Dickey amendment) passed every year since 1995 by Congress. That provision forbids funding "research in which" human embryos (whether initially created for research purposes or not) are harmed or destroyed outside the womb.(1) National Institutes of Health guidelines approved by the Clinton Administration nonetheless give researchers detailed instructions on how to obtain human embryos for destructive cell harvesting, if they wish to qualify for federal grants in "human pluripotent stem cell research."(2) Clearly, obtaining and destroying embryos is an integral part of this project, even if the specific act of destroying embryos does not directly receive federal funds. By implementing these guidelines, the federal government would encourage researchers to conduct destructive embryo experiments that are punishable as felonies in some states.(3)

This proposal is immoral because it violates a central tenet of all civilized codes on human experimentation beginning with the Nuremberg Code: It approves doing deadly harm to a member of the human species solely for the sake of potential benefit to others. The embryos to be destroyed by researchers in this campaign are at the same stage of development as embryos in the womb who have been protected as human subjects in federally funded research since 1975.(4) President Clinton's National Bioethics Advisory Commission (NBAC) and its 1994