President Clinton's ethics advisors on biotechnology issues were finalising details of their long-awaited recommendations on stem cell research, last week. As suggested by the tenor of their draft recommendations, they are expected to advise a change in the law to allow federal funding of such research.
The National Bioethics Advisory Commission - made up of scientists, ethicists, philosophers and patient representatives - will probably endorse the use of embryos donated for research by IVF patients for stem cell work but will be unprepared for federal funds to be used for the deliberate creation of embryos for research. This would still prevent federal scientists from developing tissue therapy that uses cloning technology to grow cells that are immunologically compatible with the patient. Such research is already under way in the private sector.
However, in last Wednesday's statement, the White House endorsed the more cautious approach advocated by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). NIH Director, Harold Varmus, says it would be legal for the government to fund scientists to work on stem cells that have already been isolated from the human embryo because federal scientists wouldn't have been involved in the destruction of the original embryo. 'No other legal actions are necessary at this time, because it appears that human embryonic stem cells will be available from the private sector,' the White House statement said.