THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary (Seoul, Republic of Korea) ________________________________________________________________________ For Immediate Release November 21, 1998
STATEMENT BY THE PRESS SECRETARY
Today, the National Bioethics Advisory Commission (NBAC) advised the President in a letter that they share his view that the recently reported creation of a part human and part cow embryonic stem cell "raises important ethical and potentially controversial issues that need to be considered..."
In a letter to NBAC last week, the President said that he was "deeply troubled by this news of experiments involving the mingling of human and non-human species" and requested that the Commission consider the ethical implications at their meeting in Miami this week.
The Commission further concluded that any attempt to develop a child from such hybrid cells raises the most profound ethical issues and should not be permitted.
The Commission will also address ethical, medical, and legal issues associated with human stem cell research in a later report.
The full text of the National Bioethics Advisory Commission's letter is attached.
November 20, 1998
The White House
Washington, DC 20500
Dear Mr. President:
I am responding to your letter of November 14, 1998 requesting that the National Bioethics Advisory Commission discuss at its meeting in Miami this week the ethical, medical, and legal concerns arising from the fusion of a human cell with a cow egg.
The Commission shares your view that this development raises important ethical and potentially controversial issues that need to be considered, including concerns about crossing species boundaries and exercising excessive control over nature, which need further careful discussion. This is especially the case if the product resulting from the fusion of a human cell and the egg from a non-human animal is transferred into a woman's uterus and, in a different manner, if the fusion products are embryos even if no attempt is made to bring them to term. In particular, we believe that any attempt to create a child through the fusion of a human cell and a non-human egg would raise profound ethical concerns and should not be permitted.
We devoted time at our meeting to discussing various aspects of this issue, benefiting not only from the expertise of the Commissioners, but from our consultation (via telephone) with Dr. Ralph Brinster, a recognized expert in the field of embryology, from the University of Pennsylvania. Also in attendance at our meeting was Dr. Michael West, of Advanced Cell Technology, who was given an opportunity to answer questions from Commission members. As you know, however, the design and results of this experiment are not yet publicly available, and as a consequence the Commission was unable to evaluate fully its implications.
As a framework for our initial discussion, we found it helpful to consider three questions:
At this time, there is insufficient scientific evidence to answer this question. What little evidence exists, based on other fusions of non-human eggs with non-human cells from a different species, suggests that a pregnancy cannot be maintained. If it were possible, however, for a child to develop from these fused cells, then profound ethical issues would be raised. An attempt to develop a child from these fused cells should not be permitted. This objection is consistent with our views expressed in Cloning Human Beings, in which we concluded that:
"at this time it is morally unacceptable for anyone in the
public or private sector, whether in a research or clinical setting, to attempt to create a child using somatic cell nuclear transfer cloning."
2. Does the fusion of a human cell and an egg from a non-human
animal result in a human embryo?
The common understanding of a human embryo includes, at least, the concept of an organism at its earliest stage of development, which has the potential, if transferred to a uterus, to develop in the normal course of events into a living human being. At this time, however, there is insufficient scientific evidence to be able to say whether the combining of a human cell and the egg of a non-human animal results in an embryo in this sense. In our opinion, if this combination does result in an embryo, important ethical concerns arise, as is the case with all research involving human embryos. These concerns will be made more complex and controversial by the fact that these hybrid cells will contain both human and non-human biological material.
It is worth noting that these hybrid cells should not be confused with human embryonic stem cells. Human embryonic stem cells, while derived from embryos, are not themselves capable of developing into children. The use of human embryonic stem cells, for example to generate cells for transplantation, does not directly raise the same type of moral concerns.
3. If the fusion of a human cell and the egg of a non-human
animal does not result in an embryo with the potential to develop into a child, what ethical issues remain?
If this line of research does not give rise to human embryos, we do not believe that totally new ethical issues arise. We note that scientists routinely conduct non-controversial and highly beneficial research that involves combining material from human and other species. This research has led to such useful therapies as: blood clotting factor for hemophilia, insulin for diabetes, erythropoietin for anemia, and heart valves for transplants. Combining human cells with non-human eggs might possibly lead some day to methods to overcome transplant rejections without the need to create human embryos, or to subject women to invasive, risky medical procedures to obtain human eggs.
We recognize that some of the issues raised by this type of research may also be pertinent to stem cell research in general. We intend to address these and other issues in the report that you requested regarding human stem cell research.
Harold T. Shapiro Chair