On June 15th of 2017, a bill cited as the “Patients First Act” (H.R.2918) was introduced by Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.) and Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-Ill.). As FRC has stated: “This [bill] not only reinforces our belief that all life is sacred and should be protected, but it will also allow the NIH to prioritize non-embryonic stem cell research that has been proven to have the greatest benefits for treating disease.” The bill seeks to intensify stem cell research and improve the understanding of treatment while protecting the dignity of life. Strictly referencing the National Institutes of Health’s annual budget, the bill would continue to fund and encourage stem cell studies with ethically obtained stems cells.
The stem cell battle has been waging since the 1980’s as research regarding both human embryonic stem cells and adult stem cells has advanced. However, despite the great success of adult stem cell research (ASCR) and its continual increase in funding, the push for human embryonic stem cell research (hESCR) has remained. The success of hESCR is often touted by proponents, but the lack of funding due to its inability to produce successful therapies for patients does not match these statements. In fact, funding for non-human embryonic stem cell research has more than doubled that of hESCR for years.
The largest issue with hESCR is the ethical procedures of obtaining human cells. While many scientists have clearly stated that human embryos are not considered lives, the language used by hESCR proponents seems to contradict this notion. In NIH’s brief overview of hESCR, they specifically state that embryonic stem cells “are not derived from eggs fertilized in a woman’s body.” This statement may seem like a simple explanation of experimental procedure, but the fact that NIH felt the need to address the location of fertilization as an ethical clarification already hints that they know full well of the ethical dilemma at stake. Even in the realm of science, NIH is admitting that there is something wrong with experimenting on an egg fertilized in a woman’s womb. Still, lab fertilization should not be the solution.
The solution is not that we should remove stem cell research from the agenda of scientific advancement, but rather that it be done in a way that respects all ethical boundaries. There are other ethical options within the realm of stem cell research—the growth and success of ASCR being evidence of this. The Charlotte Lozier Institute published a factsheet pointing out that “effective, economical, and ethical alternatives to embryonic stem cell research exist. Adult stem cells are the gold standard for stem cell treatment, having been used to help over one million patients worldwide.” While proponents of hESCR claim that it is more cost effective and accessible, the scientific community and the people need to decide if ease of access is going to be the deciding factor in medical research.
NIH’s mission is to “exemplify and promote the highest level of scientific integrity, public accountability, and social responsibility in the conduct of science,” all with the intention of serving patients and people. However, the core of hESCR ignores this very goal. The Patients First Act not only calls science to pursue excellence, but also calls the research field to protect human embryonic life while at the same time seek to save the lives of patients. It asks science to put “patients first” by pursuing both excellence and integrity.
For more on the Patients First Act, be sure to view FRC’s Speaker Series event with Rep. Jim Banks as he discusses the bipartisan bill he introduced.