President Bush’s Bioethics Council Releases Assisted Fertility Report
by Maria Gallagher
LifeNews.com Staff Writer
April 2, 2004
Washington, DC (LifeNews.com) — A landmark report issued by the President’s Bioethics Council has raised new questions about the regulation of potentially life-threatening reproductive technology.
The Council is urging Congress to enact proposals to monitor the safety of reproductive technology for children and mothers. But a bioethics expert at Americans United for Life, a pro-life legal advocacy group, says states need to go further to enact broader rules to protect human beings at all stages of development.
"The Council’s Report reveals that reproductive technology is ‘relatively unmonitored and unregulated in the U.S.’ and that virtually nothing is being done to monitor the long-term health of children born from reproductive technology or the health of their mothers," said Clarke Forsythe.
Forsythe, the director of the Project in Law & Bioethics at the Chicago-based group, added that the Council’s report "also makes clear that in vitro fertilization — and other methods that manufacture human embryos outside the womb — are the gateway to future technologies that will manipulate human beings."
The Council is calling for greater scrutiny of the nation’s infertility industry and research on the long-term health of "test tube babies."
Less controversial is the Council’s call for a ban on procedures that would mix human and animal embryos in science fiction-like lab experiments.
The Council is also urging Congress to ban attempts at human conception "by any means other than the union of egg and sperm," which is, in essence, a call to ban reproductive cloning.
But much of the Council’s report focuses on practices that are now considered almost routine — reproductive technologies such as in vitro fertilization.
The Council has put forth what it calls "a series of modest measures" to improve the information available about in vitro fertilization and to enhance federal oversight of reproductive technologies.
"These proposals deserve thorough study, but Americans United for Life does not necessarily endorse all of them," said Forsythe. "What’s essential is that reproductive technologies need to be strongly regulated, and all the states should prohibit experimentation on humans at any stage of development.
"Our society cannot look only at the cuddly babies that may result; we also have to examine the process, and the significance of turning procreation into manufacture. These technologies lead us to look at the children produced as commodities, the product of our will, and to weed them out according to their quality and perfection," Forsythe added.
In an interview with MSNBC this week, Council chairman Dr. Leon Kass said, "This is really the first comprehensive overview of the state of assisted reproduction technologies as they stand on the threshold of being augmented by genetic screening and possibly genetic manipulation, sex selection and the like. We point out the absence of a lot of important knowledge."
The New York Times reported this week that about 1.2 million babies have been born as a result of in vitro techniques since 1978, when the first test tube baby, Louise Brown, was born in England.
However, since the 1970s, most in vitro fertilization research in the U.S. has been conducted without federal research money, the result of taxpayer opposition to government funding of abortion.
At times, the Council has made concessions to proponents of in vitro fertilization.
For instance, the group dropped references to "nascent human life" which were opposed by the American Infertility Association, a group that supports controversial reproductive technologies.
The Council also dropped a regulation to track every embryo created within in vitro fertilization clinics.
The report also includes an appendix with personal statements issued by Council members.
Dr. Michael Sandel of Harvard was one of five Council members who added an appendix to the report to discuss such issues as embryonic stem cell research and cloning for research purposes.
"Our statement points out that sensible regulations on fertility clinics will ease the way for embryonic stem cell research, which we favor," Dr. Sandel told the New York Times.
"Some oppose embryo research for fear that it will lead down a slippery slope of exploitation and abuse — stem cells today, cloned babies tomorrow. But we can avoid these nightmare scenarios by banning reproductive cloning and assuring that no embryos used in research be grown beyond a certain point, say 14 days."
But such statements have been countered by other members of the Council, who object to a "clone and kill" approach to scientific research.
In a joint statement, Council members Robert P. George, Mary Ann Glendon, Alfonso Gomez-Lobo, William B. Hurlbut, and Gilbert C. Meilaender, wrote, "We, and perhaps other members of the Council, have grave concerns about research that destroys human embryos at any stage of their development."
Meanwhile, Americans United for Life says that individual states should follow the lead of Louisiana, which offers legal protection for human embryos and limits the number of embryos that can be created outside the womb.
According to Americans United For Life, eight other states ban experimentation on human beings at the embryonic stage.