Destructive Embryo Research, Americans United for Life
Americans United for Life has drafted a model “Destructive Human Embryo Research Act” for States to consider enacting.
Law in a society that respects human dignity must prohibit the production and use of human beings for the purpose of experiments that will destroy them at any point along the continuum of human life…
Destructive Embryo Research
Model Legislation & Policy Guide
Prepared November 2005 for the Spring 2006 Legislative Session
[Americans United for Life]
Table of Contents
Destructive Human Embryo Research Act…………………………. 4
Policy Guide……………………………………………………………… 6
Myths & Facts………………………………………………………………………. 9
Ethical Medical Research Using………………………………….. 15
Adult Stem Cells………………………………………………………………… 15
Appendix A: Current State Statutes…………………………………. 17
Appendix B: Sources and Recommended Reading ………………….. 19
Destructive human embryo research reduces the status of human beings from ends in themselves to mere means to another’s possible benefit. Research on living human beings is uncomfortably reminiscent of totalitarian medical practices of the recent past.
This model law was written to prevent such dehumanizing practices.
The Model Act is very carefully and narrowly crafted to prohibit the recent practice of embryonic stem cell research. It prohibits the deliberate use of human embryos in scientific research that harms or destroys the embryos, and forbids trafficking in human gametes or embryos used in such research. The Act expressly does not apply to in vitro fertilization and accompanying embryo transfer to a woman’s body.
The Destructive Human Embryo Research Act, if passed, will have the indirect benefit of allowing research money and effort to be directed to the already productive field of adult stem cell transplantation and somatic cell gene therapies. These procedures are free of the ethical dilemmas associated with destructive human embryo research. Moreover, unlike embryonic stem cell research, which has never produced a successful clinical application despite intense private funding, a host of adult stem cell therapies are currently used to treat many human diseases, with new applications steadily emerging.
For information or legal assistance in drafting or reviewing a bill for your state, please contact us at 312-492-7234, or [email protected].
Clarke D. Forsythe, Esq.
Director, AUL Project in Law & Bioethics
Americans United for Life
Destructive Human Embryo Research Act
HOUSE/SENATE BILL No. ______
By Representatives/Senators ____________
Be it enacted by the Legislature of the State of ____________:
Section 1. Title.
This Act may be known and cited as “Destructive Human Embryo Research Act.”
Section 2. Legislative Findings and Purpose
(a) The Legislature of the State of [insert name] finds that:
1) Human embryos are human beings at the earliest stage of development;
2) Some human embryos are being created and then destroyed to obtain stem cells for research;
3) Destructive human embryo research to obtain embryonic stem cells raises grave moral, ethical, scientific and medical issues that must be addressed;
4) The moral justification of medical or scientific research cannot be based upon the dehumanizing and utilitarian premise that the end justifies any means;
5) Medical research and treatment does not require the destruction of human life, because it can be ethically pursued in other ways, including the use of adult stem cells;
(b) Accordingly, it is the purpose of this Act to prohibit destructive human embryo research.
Section 3. Definitions
For purposes of this Act:
(a) “Human Embryo” means a genetically complete living organism of the species homo sapiens, from the single cell stage to eight weeks development, that is not located in a woman’s body;
(b) “Gamete” means a human sperm or unfertilized human ovum;
(c) “Destructive research” means medical procedures, scientific or laboratory research, or other kinds of investigation that kills or injures the subject of such research. It does not include
(i) in vitro fertilization and accompanying embryo transfer to a woman’s body, or
(ii) any diagnostic procedure that may benefit the human embryo subject to such tests.
Section 4. Prohibitions
It shall be unlawful for any person to:
(a) intentionally or knowingly conduct destructive research on a human embryo;
(b) buy, sell, receive, or otherwise transfer a human embryo with the knowledge that such embryo will be subjected to destructive research;
(c) buy, sell, receive, or otherwise transfer gametes with the knowledge that a human embryo will be produced from such gametes to be used in destructive research.
Section 5. Sanctions
(a) Whoever violates Section 3(a) shall be guilty of a [insert degree of felony or misdemeanor] for each violation.
(b) Whoever violates Section 3(b) shall be guilty of a [insert degree of felony or misdemeanor] for each violation.
(c) Whoever violates Section 3(c) shall be guilty of a [insert degree of felony or misdemeanor] for each violation.
Section 6. Severability
The provisions of the Act are declared to be severable, and if any provision, word, phrase, or clause of the Act or the application thereof to any person shall be held invalid, such invalidity shall not affect the validity of the remaining portions of this Act.
Section 7. Effective Date
This Act takes effect within [insert number of days] days of its enactment.
As its title suggests, the proposed Destructive Human Embryo Research Act is intended to ensure that research on human beings at the embryonic stage of life is conducted ethically with full regard for the human rights and dignity of the research subject. This Act’s provisions are informed by two principles. First, in accordance with the medical maxim of “Do No Harm”, medical research shall not be conducted on human subjects if it will harm or kill them. Second, because embryos, like other incompetent human research subjects, cannot give informed consent to research upon themselves, they need the special protection of the law.
The Principle of “Do No Harm”
The ancient medical precept “Do No Harm”, as formulated by Hippocrates, applies to research medicine just as to other areas of medicine. It is the most basic principle underlying this model Act. Moreover, it is the fundamental principle informing two important guides to ethical research upon human subjects.
The first guide is the Nuremberg Code: Permissible Medical Experiments (Nuremberg Code) taken from the Medical Case of the Subsequent Nuremberg Proceedings at Nuremberg, Germany, from October 1946-April 1949. The Medical Case is usually referred to as the “Doctor’s Trial.”
The Nuremberg Code i
s a list of ten principles t
o guide physicians and scientists when performing research on humans. [Full text at http://ohsr.od.nih.gov/nuremberg.php3].
Five of the ten principles forbid harming the human subject (Principles 4-7, and 10). Principle Four mandates that the research must “be so conducted as to avoid all unnecessary physical and mental suffering and injury.” Principle Five forbids research “where there is an a priori reason to believe that death or disabling injury will occur.”
Principle Six states “any risk to be taken” should be weighed against the “humanitarian importance of the problem to be solved.” Principle Seven requires proper preparations and facilities to protect the welfare of the research subject. Finally, Principle Ten orders the researcher to end the experiment if it is believed that “continuation of the experiment is likely to result in injury, disability, or death to the experimental subject.”
A second guide to ethical human research is the World Medical Association Declaration of Helsinki on Ethical Principles for Medical Research Involving Human Subjects (Helsinki Declaration). [Full text at http://www.wits.ac.za/bioethics/helsinki.htm.] The Helsinki Declaration was first approved at the 18th World Medical Association General Assembly, held June 1964 in Helsinki, Finland. It has been amended several times, most recently at the 52nd World Medical Association General Assembly, held October 2000 in
Edinburgh, Scotland. The Helsinki Declaration covers both concisely and thoroughly the ethical issues related to research on human subjects.
The Helsinki Declaration contains thirty-two stipulations regulating research upon human beings. Several of the stipulations forbid research harmful to human subjects. Many of them touch upon the same concerns found in the Nuremberg Code. For example, Stipulation Ten of the Helsinki Declaration warns physicians that it is their “duty” to “protect the life, health, privacy, and dignity of the human (research) subject.”
Americans United for Life’s proposed Destructive Human Embryo Research Act is consistent with the principle that a human subject may not be harmed during research-the fundamental idea of both the Nuremberg Code and the Helsinki Declaration.
The Principle of Informed Consent
A second underlying principle of this model Act is that human embryos, like other incompetent research subjects, need the special protection of the law. They need this protection because, unlike competent adults, incompetent patients cannot use the mechanism of informed consent to protect themselves from harmful medical research.
That medical researchers obtain the informed consent of their subject is well established law. This fundamental requirement is reflected in the Nuremberg Code. For example, Principle One states, “The voluntary consent of the human subject is absolutely essential” (emphasis added). Similarly, the Helsinki Declaration states: “The (research) subjects must be volunteers and informed participants in the research project.”
Naturally, research subjects such as minors, who are not capable of giving informed consent, are in need of protection if informed consent is to have any substance. Such research subjects often can neither consent to the research, nor object to it when it is already in progress. Nevertheless, there may be instances when there will be a genuine need to treat an incompetent patient with experimental therapies intended to benefit that incompetent patient. Accordingly, incompetent patients, including human embryos, require the protection of the law so that research conducted upon them will not harm or destroy them.
The Declaration of Helsinki addresses this need squarely. Stipulation Eight of the declaration notes that “Some research populations are vulnerable and need special protection.” The stipulation specifically includes among such vulnerable populations “those who cannot give or refuse consent for themselves.”
Myths & Facts
A human embryo is not a human being.
The science of human embryology confirms that the human embryo is a human organism, entity, and being at the earliest stage of development.
The union of human egg and sperm results in a one-celled human embryo. The one-celled embryo is called a zygote. It is a one-celled organism that is a member of the human species. The human embryo is a complete organism whose development is not extrinsically determined but determined in accord with its internal genetic information. Its growth and development demonstrates self-directed, integrated, organic functioning. An organism is an entity and a being.
Anthropology and genetics say that this entity being is a human being. We were all once an embryo, but not an egg or sperm, because neither the egg nor sperm had the same genetic makeup that the human being has. The human embryo is a complete organism, though immature; sperm and egg are only parts of other organisms. An embryo is a potential infant, potential adolescent or potential adult, but not a potential life, not a potential human. The undeveloped status of the organism does not mean that it is not an organism. A human embryo is a whole member of homo sapiens in earliest stages of his/her natural development.
The leading embryology texts confirm this:
“Human development begins at fertilization when a male gamete or sperm (spermatozoon) unites with a female gamete or oocyte (ovum) to form a single cell—a zygote. This highly specialized, totipotent cell marked the beginning of each of us as a unique individual.”
– Keith L. Moore & T.V.N. Persaud, The Developing Human: Clinically Oriented Embryology (5th ed. 20___)
“the nuclei of the male and female gametes unite, resulting in the formation of a zygote containing a single diploid [having the full complement of chromosomes] nucleus. Embryonic development is considered to begin at this point.”
– William Larsen, Human Embryology (1993)
“through the mingling of maternal and paternal chromosomes, the zygote is a genetically unique product of chromosomal reassortment.”
when “the maternal and paternal chromosomes…become organized around the mitotic spindle in preparation for an ordinary mitotic division…the process of fertilization can be said to be complete and the fertilized egg is called a zygote.”
– Bruce Carlson, Human Embryology and Developmental Biology (1994)
“[T]he zygote…is a unicellular embryo and a highly specialized cell.”
“[a]lthough life is a continuous process, fertilization is a critical landmark because, under ordinary circumstances, a new, genetically distinct human organism is thereby formed.” They add: “this remains true even though the embryonic genome is not actually activated until 4-8 cells are present, at about 2-3 days.” Furthermore, “[t]he embryonic genome is formed” with the union of the male and female pronuclei, and, at that point, “the embryo now exists as a genetic unity.”
“[I]t is to be remembered that at all stages the embryo is a living organism, that is, it is a going concern with adequate mechanisms for its maintenance as of that time.”
– O’Rahilly & Muller, Human Embryology & Teratology (1994)
“[e]ach member of a species begins with fertilization—the successful merging of two different pools of genetic information to form a new individual.”
– Pauerstein, Obstetrics (1987)
“A human ovum possesses human characteristics as genetic carriers, not chicken or fish. This is now manifest: the evidence no longer allows a discussion as to if and when and in what month of ontogenesis a human being is formed. To be a human being is decided for an organism at the moment of fertilization of the ovum.”
– Ernest Blechschmidt, The Beginning of Human Life (1977)
“[C]onception refers to the
union of t
he male and female pronuclear elements of procreation from which a new living being develops.”
– Greenhill & Friedman, Biological Principles and Modern
Practice of Obstetrics (1974)
The Human Being
Human being is an anthropological term that is based on biology and species. A human being is a member of the species homo sapiens, and it is defined biologically, by species, not developmentally. “human being”:
“humankind is a species with a scientific name Homo sapiens.
– Encyclopedia Americana (1991)
“hominid, any creature of the family Hominidae (order Primates), of which only one species exists today—Homo sapiens, or human beings.”
– Encyclopedia Britannica (1992)
Clearly, some Americans can’t accept the idea that—as a May 2004 letter to USA Today put it—“a gamete about the size of a period at the end of a sentence” is a human being, but these are the concepts and language that human embryology has created in the 20th century. And the size of the organism, and the uses to which it can be put, don’t discount the scientific data.
Today, many would consider the human being worthy of respect and legal protection not because of the kind of entity it is, but only if it has immediately exercisable capacities, only after the point at which it exhibits verbal communication, for example. This confuses two senses of capacity (which is sometimes called potential). There are two senses of capacity that need to be distinguished: basic, natural capacity, which develops over time, and immediately exercisable capacity.
Some, like Princeton Professor Peter Singer, would protect the human only if its capacities are immediately exercisable. However, one must realize that the developing human being does not possess immediately exercisable capacity at birth but only several months after birth. On this reasoning, just as embryos would be subject to experimentation, so must infants.
Sources and Related Reading
Bruce M. Carlson, Human Embryology and Developmental Biology (1994)
Scott F. Gilbert, Developmental Biology (7th ed. 2003)
William J. Larsen, Essentials of Human Embryology (1997)
Keith L. Moore & T.V.N. Persaud, The Developing Human: Clinically Oriented
Embryology (6th ed. 1998)
Ronan O’Rahilly & Fabiola Muller, Human Embryology & Teratology (3d ed. 2001)
“Your Destiny From Day One” by Helen Pearson, in NATURE, vol. 418, July 4, 2002
Robert P. George, “The Moral Status of the Human Embryo,” Johns Hopkins
Perspectives in Biology and Medicine – Volume 48, Number 2, pp. 201-210
A human embryo is merely a clump of cells unworthy of legal protection.
Science recognizes that human embryos – human beings at the embryonic stage of life – are human beings beginning at fertilization forward. Thus, like any human being, human embryos deserve the protection of the law.
In addition to scientists, other prominent scholars have recognized that a human embryo is a human being:
Honesty requires that we speak not simply of human life but of a human being.
Skin and intestinal tissue, even eggs and sperm, are human life. But, unlike such instances of human life, the embryo from the earliest moment has the active capacity to articulate itself into what everyone acknowledges is a human being.
The embryo is a being; that is to say, it is an integral whole with actual existence.
The being is human; it will not articulate itself into some other kind of animal.
Any being that is human is a human being. If it is objected that, at five days or fifteen days, the embryo does not look like a human being, it must be pointed out that this is precisely what a human being looks like-and what each of us looked like-at five or fifteen days of development. Clarity of language is essential to clarity of thought.1
The potential benefits to medical science justify destructive human embryo research.
One of the basic foundations of American society is that human beings have inherent dignity and, therefore, are always to be treated as ends and never merely as means.
1 Ramsey Colloquium, The Inhuman Use of Human Beings: A Statement on Embryo Research, First Things, 49 (January 1995): 18.
On the internet at http://www.firstthings.com/ftissues/ft9501/articles/ramsey.html.
Consequently, even the noble goal of healing people must not be achieved by the immoral means of destroying human beings at the embryonic stage of life. Of all human beings, embryos are the most defenseless against abuse. The intentional destruction of some human beings for the alleged good of other human beings is always morally wrong. Therefore, destroying human embryos to harvest their stem cells should be legally proscribed.
There are no reasonable alternatives to human embryos as a source of stem cells.
There are at least three alternatives to using human embryos as a source of stem cells for research and therapeutic purposes. One important source is umbilical cord blood-a very rich source of stem cells. 2 Another is “adult stem cells” from various organs.
Researchers have long known, for example, that bone-marrow can form into blood cells. We now know that bone-marrow cells can form into fat, cartilage, and bone tissue.3 Another promising source is neural stem cells.
These stem cells have been successfully isolated and cultured from living human neural tissue4 and even from adult cadavers.5
Moreover, a ban on Destructive Human Embryo Research Act would have the indirect benefit of allowing research money and effort to be directed to the already productive field of adult stem cell transplantation and somatic cell gene therapies. These procedures are free of the ethical dilemmas associated with destructive human embryo research.
Even if there are acceptable alternatives to human embryos as a source of stem cells, embryonic stem cells are the best type of stem cells for therapeutic tissue generation.
2 Huhn R.D.; “Umbilical cord blood stem cell transplantation and banking”; National Journal of Medicine 97, 53-57; Sept. 2000.
3 M.F. Pittenger et al.; “Multilineage potential of adult human mesenchymal stem cells”; Science 284, 143-147; April 2, 1999.
4 Uchida, N. et al.; “Direct isolation of human central nervous system stem cells”; Proceedings of the National Academy of Science USA 97, 14720-14725; Dec. 19, 2000.
5 Palmer, T.D., Schwartz, P.H., Taupin, P., Kaspar, B., Stein, S.A., Gage, F.H.; “Progenitor cells from human brain after death”; Nature 411, 42-43; May 3, 2001.
Actually, adult stem cells have a proven record of effective clinical remedies, which cannot be said for embryonic stem cells. No clinical use of human embryonic stem cells has yet been published in the scientific literature. Medical remedies involving embryonic stem cells are still conjectural. In contrast, adult stem cells are being used in numerous therapeutic procedures (See “Current Applications” Section below).
Destructive human embryo research on spare human embryos created as a bioproduct of IVF procedures is acceptable because they would be discarded anyway.
As stated above, human beings are always to be treated as ends and never merely as means. Thus, it is irrelevant whether a human embryo is destined to be discarded. No human being should be destroyed for the possible benefit of another, and this principle of human dignity shoul
d be clear
ly reflected in our law and policy.
Following the horrific history of the twentieth century, the 1975 Helsinki Declaration of the World Medical Association is still instructive: “[c]oncern for the interests of the subject must always prevail over the interest of science and society.”
States cannot prohibit destructive human embryo research in light of the Supreme Court’s decisions allowing abortion.
The Supreme Court has never ruled on the legal status of human embryos outside of the womb.
The 1973 Roe v. Wade decision limits state protection of unborn human life only when the developing human being is within a woman’s body.
When the woman’s interest in terminating a pregnancy is not at stake, the states are free to protect the developing human being from destruction at every stage of gestation, even from fertilization. In the case of human embryos outside of the womb, no pregnant woman is involved. Thus, Roe does not apply to state bans of destructive human embryo research.
Ethical Medical Research Using Adult Stem Cells
Proponents of embryonic stem cell research have created a false impression that these cells have a proven therapeutic use. In fact the embryonic cells have never helped a human patient; any claim that they may someday do so is guesswork. Adult stem cells have proven benefits, and new uses are constantly being found:
Current Clinical Use of Adult Stem Cells to Help Human Patients
Autoimmune diseases (multiple sclerosis, lupus, juvenile and other rheumatoid arthritis)
Immunodeficiencies, including a new treatment for severe combined immune deficiency (when used with gene therapy)
Epstein-Barr virus infection
Corneal damage (full vision restored in most patients treated in clinical trials)
Blood and liver diseases
Cancer treatment (in combination with chemotherapy and/or radiation):
Multiple myeloma, leukemias
Renal cell carcinoma
Cardiac repair after heart attack (clinical trials announced Spring 2001)
Type I diabetes (not stem cells as such, but pancreatic islet cells from donors)
Cartilage and bone damage.
(For medical journal citations see http://www.stemcellresearch.org/currentaps.htm)
Current Clinical Use of Embryonic Stem Cells to Help Human Patients
There is no list.
Embryonic stem cells have never helped a human patient.
“There is no evidence of therapeutic benefit from embryonic stem cells.”
Marcus Grompe, M.D., Ph.D., Department of Molecular and Medical Genetics,
Oregon Health Sciences University – an expert in cell transplantation to repair damaged livers, at a June 22, 2001 Workshop sponsored by the National Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Medicine in Washington DC, “Stem Cells and the Future of Regenerative Medicine.”
Appendix A: Current State Statutes
One State has a comprehensive destructive human embryo research statute, separate from any fetal experimentation law, which bans “non-therapeutic research that destroys a human embryo”:
South Dakota: S.D. COD. LAWS §§ 34-14-16 TO 34-14-20 (2001)
One State has a destructive human embryo research statute, separate from any fetal experimentation law, which restricts the destruction of embryos that have been created by in vitro fertilization:
Louisiana: LA. REV. STAT. §§ 9:121-9:133 (2000).
Nine States ban live fetal experimentation which could apply to destructive embryo research:
Of those, two State statutes include “embryo” as a stage of human life protected by the statute:
Louisiana: LA. REV. STAT. § 14:87.2 (2000).
Michigan: MICH. COMP. LAWS §§ 333.2685-333.2692 (2000).
In seven of the fetal experimentation statutes, “fetus” is either expressly defined to include life from conception, or the statute could be read to include human embryos6:
Maine: ME. REV. STAT. TIT. 22, §1593 (2000).
Massachusetts: MASS. ANN. LAWS 112 § 12J (2001).
Minnesota: MINN. STAT. §§ 145.421 AND 145.422 (2000).
New Mexico: N.M. STAT. ANN. §§ 24-9A-1 TO 24-9A-7 (2000).
North Dakota: N.D. CENT. CODE § 14-02.2-01 (2000).
Rhode Island: R.I. GEN. LAWS §§ 11-54-1 AND 11-54-2 (2001).
Pennsylvania: 18 PA. CONS. STAT. § 3216 (2000).
Three states have passed legislation restricting funding for destructive embryonic stem cell research.
In one state, a “Life Sciences Research Trust Fund” has been established, which prohibits public funds from being “expended, paid, or granted to or on behalf of an existing or proposed research project that involves abortion services, human cloning, or prohibited human research.” 6 A careful reading of each state’s statute is required. Because each of the nine State statutes address the subject of “fetal experimentation,” legislators in those States may wish to consider enacting a law that specifically addresses destructive human embryo research.
Missouri: MO. REV. STAT. §§196.1100 – 196.1130 (2003).
In one state, an Act was passed which prohibits funds from being given to any entity which conducts human stem cell research from human embryos, or for any loan to conduct such research; however, research conducted using adult stem cells may be funded.
Virginia: VA. CODE ANN. § 2.2-2233.2 (2004).
In one state, an Act was passed which promoted growth of the biotechnology industry. The Act specifically indicated that the terms “bioscience,” “biotechnology” and “life sciences” shall not be construed to include induced abortion in humans, performed after the date of enactment of this act, or the use of cells or tissues derived therefrom; or any research the federal funding of which would be contrary to federal laws that are in effect on the date of enactment of this act.
Kansas: 2004 KAN. ALS 112, *; 2004 KAN. SESS. LAWS 112; 2003 KAN. HB 2647
Two states have passed legislation encouraging the use of adult stem cells and cord blood.
In one state, an Act was passed which, in pertinent part, encourages use of adult stem cells, placental cells and cord blood.
Florida: FLA. STAT. § 381.855 (2004).
In one state, an Act was passed which created the Advisory Council on Cord Blood/Stem Cell Donations. This act is known as the Danielle Martinez Act.
Oklahoma: 63 OKL. ST. § 2172 (2004).
Appendix B: Sources and Recommended
Some material in the policy portion of this Guide was obtained from the following sources, which we recommend for more detailed information:
Clarke D. Forsythe, Esq., Human Cloning and the Constitution, 32 Val. U.L. Rev. 469, 541-542 (1998).
Center for Bioethics and Human Dignity, On Human Embryos and Stem Cell Research: An Appeal for Legally and Ethically Responsible Science and Public Policy, Do No Harm Coalition Website,
Ramsey Colloquium, The Inhuman Use of Human Beings: A Statement on Embryo Research, First Things, 49 (January 1995): 17-21 (on the internet at
www.aul.org – for updates on model legislation and policy materials.
www.stemcellresearch.org – for current information on embryo and adult stem cell research and legal issues.
.gov – for the report of the P
resident’s Commission on Bioethics
For further information regarding this or other AUL policy guides, please contact: