Saying that he is "deeply troubled" by the creation of part-human, part-cow embryonic stem cells, President Clinton has directed the National Bioethics Advisory Commission to consider the implications of the research at its meeting Tuesday in Miami and to report back "as soon as possible."
In a letter sent yesterday to the chairman of the commission, Harold Shapiro of Princeton University, Clinton also asked for a review of embryonic stem-cell research in general, including the all-human embryonic stem cells whose isolation was reported this month. These cells -- the primordial, all-purpose cells from which all tissues of the body develop -- were derived from very early embryos or blastocysts and from the tissue of aborted fetuses.
While the president signaled concern about the "mingling of human and non-human species," he was more positive about the all-human embryonic stem-cell research, noting that it "may have real potential for treating such devastating illnesses as cancer, heart disease, diabetes and Parkinson's disease." But he stressed the ethical concerns raised by the research, telling the commission that he wanted a "thorough review, balancing all ethical and medical considerations."
The letter was sent after the president consulted with the White House Domestic Policy Council and the president's science adviser, Neal Lane, "because he wanted the broadest views possible," an administration official said.
A political issue that lies in the background of the commission's deliberations is the ban on federal financing of fetal research. The ban, imposed by Congress, has created a situation in which university scientists, who mostly depend on federal money, cannot work on the human embryonic stem cells, whereas the private sector can conduct whatever research it pleases.
A group of scientists and ethicists known as the Human Embryo Research Panel said in 1994 that research on human embryonic stem cells should be federally financed, provided that the cells were derived from excess pre-implantation embryos created for infertility treatments. This was the source of some of the human embryonic stem cells isolated this month.
Pub Date: 11/15/98