CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va.-- In a July 19th letter to Virginia Governor James Gilmore, John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute, urged Governor Gilmore to conduct a careful and thorough investigation into reports that an institution funded by the Commonwealth of Virginia, the Jones Institute for Reproductive Medicine in Norfolk, is creating human embryos specifically for the purpose of embryonic stem cell research.
On the eve of President Bush's expected decision on whether or not to approve federal funding for stem cell research on human embryos, Whitehead is asking decision-makers to carefully balance the actual medical benefits of such research with the ethical question of destroying human embryos. If we are to allow such research, Whitehead believes, then two things must be true: first, that the embryos will be destroyed anyway; and second, that the research will indeed save thousands, if not millions, of lives. Citing the Jones Institute's present research project and a recent scientific study, Whitehead challenges these rationales. By growing human embryos for purposes of experimentation and destruction, Whitehead states, the Jones Institute has removed the condition under which many ethicists have found embryonic research acceptable: that the experimentation be conducted on embryos discarded unused from fertilization therapy. In addition, the ethical and legal ramifications involved in producing embryos from biological donors who are unaware of what their genetic material is being used for is cause for alarm. As to the question of saving lives, Whitehead cites a study in a recent issue of the journal Science, which found that embryonic stem cells, at least in mice, are much more unpredictable than previously thought.
"This is not to suggest that federal and state tax dollars should not be used to support controversial medical research," said Mr. Whitehead. "In the case of embryonic research, on the other hand, a great many citizens believe the immoral destruction of human life is involved. Respect for these views, particularly in light of new evidence questioning the efficacy of stem cell research, counsels caution and sensitivity."
The Rutherford Institute is an international, nonprofit civil liberties organization committed to defending constitutional and human rights.