Friday, April 2, 2004
MR. DOERFLINGER: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
I would like to comment on the Council's new report.
A formal reaction was issued yesterday by the Catholic Bishops'
Conference, and I hope I might make that available to Council
members and place copies on the table outside for anyone else
who might be interested.
Time is short and there's really no need to discuss
the many matters on which we agree. So let me go straight
to the two issues on which I continue to disagree with the
Council, even with some members who share my moral convictions
about the human embryo.
First, on a limit of ten to 14 days for embryo research.
Clearly it is not inherently immoral to support a partial
or incremental ban on an evil, and I reflected on this at
some length in my June 12th testimony to the Council. At
the same time, one must always ask what this is an increment
towards and what the likely effect of a particular proposal
The facts as I see them are these.
First, if passed now such a limit would prohibit little
if any embryo research now going on. All attention is focused
on the stem cells to be obtained from blastocysts 4 to 6 days
old, and this is what cries out for response now.
The 14 day limit, in particular, would ban only research
that is now physically impossible, because no one can keep
an embryo alive in a laboratory past 14 days.
There is a real and present threat arising from laws like
the one in New Jersey, which seem to allow cloned embryos
to be placed in women's wombs and farmed for their fetal
cells -- the only way now possible for bringing embryos past
14 days. But that problem is addressed in a separate Council
recommendation which I believe we all support.
What, then, will be the direct and immediate impact of this
proposal? It seems to me it would be twofold.
First, contrary to at least some Council members' intentions,
it may well teach the message to many Americans that there
is some qualitative, morally significant difference between
embryos before that point and embryos after it. That danger
is very real because many people once held this view regarding
the appearance of the so-called primitive streak at 14 days,
which was thought to mark the difference between the pre-embryo
and the embryo.
As I documented in the appendix to my June 12th testimony,
that view is now discredited among most embryologists, but
still promoted by many who find it politically useful. It
would be tragic to reinforce that fallacy, to teach the American
people bad science that may lead them to make more bad decisions
about the early embryo.
The other immediate impact as announced by some Council
members yesterday, and I appreciate their candor, is that
this standard will be used immediately as a weapon against
existing state laws and federal funding policies that now
respect the embryo from the beginning. For that matter, it
may even be used to go back and attack the Unborn Victims
of Violence Act just signed by the President yesterday, which
respects the embryo from the beginning in violent crime situations.
Most immediately, it will feed into a renewed campaign to
overturn current federal policy against encouraging the destruction
of new embryos to get their stem cells, a campaign that for
all I know was timed to coincide with the date of release
of this report.
Knowing that this is the actual intent of some supporters,
it would be irresponsible of me to risk facilitating that
agenda, which is the opposite of my own, without a very serious
reason -- which, for the reasons stated above, I do not think
I have at this time.
This is a morally based stance. It may be that people with
the same moral convictions come to a different conclusion
based on a different perception of the facts. And in that
case, I would like to share with them the evidence for my
understanding of the facts and invite them to do the same
for me, with the goal of making all of us more rational.
I think I've used up most of my time on that.
On point number two, the proposal regarding the creation
of embryos by bizarre means with the intent to initiate a
pregnancy, let me just say that it continues to seem to me
operationally identical to key language in the Greenwood Cloning
Bill of 2001, House Resolution 2172, which attempted to ban
the use of "somatic cell nuclear transfer technology
with the intent to initiate a pregnancy."
In a June 2001 congressional hearing, that language was
thoroughly criticized and discredited by some committee members,
by the witness from the Department of Health and Human Services,
and most of all by myself and one other witness named Dr.
Leon Kass. Without going into details, Leon, I still find
your testimony compelling.
But after speaking with Council members yesterday, I think
I better understand why some Council members chose to support
this language, from a valid concern about the possible rise
of an industry promising manufactured or designer children
to vulnerable infertile couples and others and advertising
themselves as such. I believe that that goal can be met by
other means, and I will certainly do more thinking about how
to do that without raising the conundrums that regrettably
make me decide not to support this last recommendation on
creating with an intent to initiate a pregnancy.
I hope the Council members, despite the fact that the report
is now issued, will also continue to think creatively along
Thank you very much for the opportunity to speak today.
CHAIRMAN KASS: Thank you very much for the as usual,
very thoughtful and well reasoned presentation. And we will
continue to think about these matters, no doubt, and even
speak about them together.
Anybody have any epiphanies? Last words?
The meeting is adjourned.
Safe travel. Look forward to seeing you in June.
(Whereupon, at 11:50 a.m. the meeting