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Ethics Triumph

NIH Releases New Stem Cell Guidelines

scientist working with petri dish SOURCE: AP/Paul Sancya The new rules on embryonic stem cell research weigh ethical considerations and sound science. Now that’s progressive.

The National Institutes of Health today announced its draft guidelines for human embryonic stem cell research, responding to President Obama’s March 9 executive order rescinding the Bush administration’s severely restrictive policy. The balanced consideration of ethical issues and sound science evident in the new rules is indicative of what most progressives expected from the beginning.

Indeed, we’re delighted to see that the new guidelines are similar to the recommendations Science Progress and the Center for American Progress proposed in our paper, “A Life Sciences Crucible: Stem Cell Research and Innovation Done Responsibly and Ethically,” published in January. They include:

  • Funding only for lines from embryos remaining after fertility procedures
  • Full informed consent from the donors
  • No financial inducements to donate
  • A demonstrated understanding by the donors that the research will not confer benefits upon them personally
  • A strict separation of the privately funded cell-derivation process from the publicly funded cell research.

These proposed guidelines keep the regulation of embryonic stem cell research in line with all existing federal laws, including the so-called Dickey-Wicker amendment, which forbids the use of government funds for the creation, harm, or destruction of embryos for research. Another wise aspect of the guidelines is their encouragement and inclusion of research on so called induced pluripotent stem cells. These adult IPS cells are an integral part of the NIH’s overall regenerative medicine research enterprise alongside embryonic stem cells.

Critically, the NIH will not be funding human-animal hybrid research or other kinds of research that still remains outside the mainstream of ethics and science. The new guidelines prohibit the funding of human-animal hybrid research by the introduction of pluripotent human stem cells into animal blastocysts or germlines, and also forbid funding on pluripotent stem cells derived from embryos created through somatic cell nuclear transfer, a form of cloning, parthenogenesis, or non-reproductive in-vitro fertilization.

Unlike the Bush administration, which issued rules governing stem cell research by executive fiat, the NIH is seeking comment over the next 30 days before President Obama makes his final determination. That is also the wise thing to do regarding stem cell research.

Michael Rugnetta is a research assistant with the Progressive Bioethics Initiative at the Center for American Progress.

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