After the Nuremberg war-crimes trials highlighted horrific Nazi experiments on prisoners, the Nuremberg ethics code laid down “never again” guidelines regarding research on human subjects. Utilitarian scientists in the Geron Corporation are once again pushing those ethical boundaries, using human patients as guinea pigs in their quest for lucrative patents from embryo-destructive stem-cell research (“Stem-cell treatment tested on patient,” Tuesday, Nation).
To protect patients, the Nuremberg Code requires patient-informed consent and the absence of any “force, fraud, deceit, duress, overreaching or other ulterior form of constraint or coercion.” Yet patients in the Geron study are counseled by officials from the very corporation that would profit from potential patents arising from the study.
Many oppose embryonic-stem-cell experimentation on moral grounds, since embryonic-stem-cell research involves the deliberate destruction of living, genetically complete human embryos who otherwise could grow into children.
Many oppose federal funding of embryo-killing research on pragmatic grounds, arguing that ethical adult stem-cell research, already treating more than 70 diseases, offers far more promise for near-term therapies for patients.
Still others oppose it on legal grounds. A lawsuit by the Christian Medical Association and adult stem-cell researchers recently resulted in a temporary injunction from a federal court, which found that federal law “unambiguously” prohibits funding embryo-destroying research.
Even some who minimize the moral importance of embryonic human beings have raised opposition to the study, which involves actually injecting volatile embryonic stem cells into adult human patients with spinal-cord injuries. Stem-cell expert John Gearhart of the University of Pennsylvania protested potentially catastrophic harm to patients in the Geron Corporation study, asking, “Are we transplanting cells that are going to cause tumors?”
Medically unethical, immoral, impractical, illegal and potentially lethal research on human subjects is occurring here. Whatever happened to “never again”?
Vice President, Government Relations
Christian Medical Association