NIH Targets Public and Congress to Sell Human Embryo Research

Author: American Life League

NIH Fact Sheet, January 1995


A Dateline Summary of the NIH and Embryo Experimentation

September 27, 1994: The Human Embryo Research Panel of the National Instit utes of Health (NIH) released its recommendations for federally funded re search projects involving human embryos.

December 1 and 2, 1994: The Advisory Committee to the Director of the NIH unanimously approved the September 27 recommendations.

December 2, 1994: President Clinton "directed" the NIH not to allocate fed eral funds for the "creation" of human embryos for research purposes-but failed to address the use of private funding for such purposes. Clinton also did not discuss possible taxpayer funding of experiments on other human embryos-those who, at their creation, were not intended to be used in research.

Today: The decision to accept or reject, in whole or in part, the Panel's September 27 recommendations for federal funding of human embryo research is being weighed by Dr. Harold Varmus, director of the NIH. Dr. Varmus has sole power and discretion over this decision.

Also pending, however, is possible Congressional action to prevent the financing of experiments on tiny human beings.


There is an unquestioned international scientific/medical consensus that the life of every human being begins at fertilization. That a human being's life begins at fertilization is a biological fact-not a matter of opinion. It is this fact that provides the objective basis for any conclusion about the moral status (personhood) of the human embryo (i.e., about the value inherent in a human being in the first seven to eight weeks of life).


The NIH, however, refuses to deal with the scientific reality that the human embryo is a human being. Instead, it bases its conclusion about the moral status of the human embryo on incorrect science. It is upon this bad science and poor moral reasoning that the NIH would justify the funding of fatal experiments on the youngest human beings.


Unless otherwise noted, the following statements were made by members of the NIH's Human Embryo Research Panel, its Advisory Committee to the Director, or its Council Representatives at public meetings held December 1 and 2, 1994. The page numbers listed after certain quotes refer to the transcript of the December 1 and 2 public meetings. Commentaries on the quotes are those of American Life League, Inc.

". . . the preimplantation embryo merits respect as a developing form of human life, but . . . the embryo's claims upon us are not so great as to outweigh those of infants, children, or adults . . ." (Dr. Ronald Green, December 1, 1994, p. 69).

This "different" moral status of the young embryo is the basis for the NIH's recommendations in support of human embryo research. If it recog nized that the moral status of the early human embryo is the same as for all other human beings, the NIH could not justify its recommendations. Some at the NIH expressed discomfort with the implications of a "different" moral status:

"I am so excited about the research, but I still can't get past this point of acceptance of this vulnerable embryo . . . as not being protected by the same protection that is accorded by law to the more developed embryo . . . how can we, and do we have the right to draw the line at that point in time?" (Dr. Janice Zeller, December 1, 1994, p. 146).

The majority of public responses to the NIH recommendations from the press, academics and professionals alike have expressed deep outrage:

"The idea of the manufacture of such a magnificent thing as a human life purely for the purpose of conducting research is grotesque, at best. Whether or not it is federally funded" (editorial, Chicago Sun Times, Dec ember 10, 1994, p. 25).

"The creation of human embryos specifically for research that will destroy them is unconscionable. The government has no business funding it." (editorial, The Washington Post, October 2, 1994, p. C6).

"Most people instinctively recoil in shock and disgust, even horror, from such a proposal. That reaction should be encouraged, not deplored. It be speaks not scientific illiteracy but moral common sense" (A Brave New World Is Hatched, by George Weigel, President of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, Los Angeles Times, November 27, 1994).

"I think it's a rather profound decision to say that a government agency will use its money, its taxpayer dollars, to designate a class of subhuman humans that will be there solely to be experimented upon and then discard them at the whim of science. You are commanding living, human life to the custody of science solely to do science, and . . . that is an extraor dinary if not a profound step that I don't believe should be taken" (Dr. Bernadine Healy, former NIH Director, MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour, December 6, 1994).

Does the American Public Misunderstand the Issue- or Does It Understand It All too Well?

Whether hopelessly self-deceived, or outright manipulative, the NIH Panel blames the "ignorant" American public (and what they refer to as the "public yuk factor") for the confusion and outrage:

"What you are dealing with is a very hot topic, and . . . it is not well understood publicly" (Dr. Steven Muller, December 1, 1994, p. 102).

"The problem is reaching the 50, 60, 70 percent, probably the majority of the population that really would be in favor of this if they understood it . . . the great majority of people have no conception of any of this" (Dr. Robert Grossman, December 1, 1994, p. 144).

". . . most people who take the time to understand what we are talking about do not regard the single fertilized cell or the immediate cells which derive from it as an embryo. However, . . . that would not make a difference to the people who believe that fertilization immediately creates a being which has the same moral status as a person" (Dr. Nannerl Keohane, December 1, 1994, p. 97).

". . . the people who are concerned about ends and means here are partly misconceptualizing the issue, and they see this as the abuse of formed fetuses and human subjects and the like" (Dr. Ronald Green, December 1, 1994, p. 112).

The NIH Perceives not a Moral Problem, but a Marketing Failure

". . . we need to decide where the science is and then try to sell this report" (Dr. Barbara Rimer, December 1, 1994, p. 147) (emphasis added).

". . . we should angle decisions based on the scientific aspects . . . Then I believe it will be rather easy to sell the benefits of the re search to the public, and they will accept it" (Dr. Gail Cassell, December 1, 1994, p. 150).

"We can't keep hearing the term 'sell the report' . . . we really ought be talking about informing or educating, because selling implies some thing a little bit scandalous or something under the table" (Dr. David Guyton, December 1, 1994, p. 150).

"For other people who have different moral approaches to this issue, I think it would be a good idea to use terminology which avoids the misper ception that may get in the way of understanding what it is that we are trying to achieve" (Dr. Nannerl Keohane, December 1, 1994, p. 97).

"Several people have criticized the cards and letters from Ma and Pa Kettle back home because they were just signatures and things, and I have to ob ject to that. The fact that they took the time to sign their name is very, very important. If we value that and bring them along and they can under stand, they need to understand the negative impact of failing to do this re search, the impact on family structure, family values, on the lives of children and the lives of embryos" (Dr. Westley Clark, December 1, 1994, p. 109).

"I think some of the misperceptions and some of the controversy that this panel has clearly generated have to do with the way in which the name it self was framed-human embryo research. That makes it sound to people who know nothing more than that as though we are indeed talking about scien tists experimenting upon advanced embryos and fetuses, which is, of course, very far from what we are talking about. I found myself wondering . . . whether some of that might have been avoided if, from the beginning, we had had a different name and if the name of the panel had been Research on In Vitro Fertilization and Preimplantation Embryos" (Dr. Nannerl Keohane, December 1, 1994, p. 96).

"I would lay out the most positive, acceptable types of research and start with that, and then educate the public over time to go beyond that" (Dr. Ralph Snyderman, December 1, 1994, p. 138).

". . . the effort to anticipate what would be incremental doesn't work very well in this area; . . . people are broadly offended on a variety of grounds, including those who feel that any research on the early embryo is impermissible, those who are concerned about slippery slopes and means/ end issues" (Dr. Ronald Green, December 1, 1994, p. 121).

The NIH Wants to "Sell" Congress, Too

". . . to avoid the problems . . . Congressional staffs, the lay public, and Congress all have to be sold it or educated very, very thoroughly in terms of what are the benefits to mankind of this kind of research, and then implement it . . ." (Dr. Edwin Rubel, December 1, 1994, p. 148-149) (emphasis added).

"Not much has been said about the education of congressional represent atives and congressional staffs to sort of ward off the bombshells . . . I'd like to know if it's possible to kind of rename this from human embryo research to fertilization research, which I think would defuse some of this" (Dr. Edwin Rubel, December 2, 1994, p. 45).

". . . given the scrutiny at this point, it [renaming the panel] would be considered transparent and manipulative" (Dr. David Challoner, December 2, 1994, p. 45).


The embryo experimentation controversy is not a discussion of "opinions," but of the NIH's continuing misrepresentation of scientific facts and bio ethical arguments to "sell" to the American public and to Congress its own perverse agenda.

Please write, call or fax your Congressman and Senators immediately and urge them to support a debate, with full public participation, on:

* the constitutionality of the government or private entities creating individual human beings (embryos)-and using already-existing "spare" human beings (embryos)-for biomedical research that will kill them; and

* the morality of forcing the American public to subsidize this activity.

It's time to make the NIH defend its "science" and its "moral" claims in the open light of public debate.

Senator ____________________ U.S. Senate Washington, DC 20510 202-224-3121

Congressman ____________________ U.S. House of Representatives Washington, DC 20515 202-225-3121

As of November 21, 1994, the National Institutes of Health had received a total of 56,809 public responses opposing human embryo research and 1,287 favoring it.

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