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Pro-Life Groups Sue U.S. Over Stem Cell Research

March 10, 2001—Washington, DC: Several pro-life organizations sued the government Thursday, March 8, to block federal funding of controversial medical research using embryonic cells from unborn children. They announced the action at a press conference hosted by pro-life Sen. Sam Bronback (R-KS), a leading advocate against embryo research.

One organization participating in the lawsuit, Nightlight Christian Adoptions, arranges for infertile couples to ``adopt'' embryos left over from other couples' fertility treatments. The lawsuit opposes National Institutes of Health plans to fund research using certain embryonic cells - arguing such research would cut the number of adoptable embryos and thus financially harm Nightlight and prospective parents.

At issue are stem cells, the building blocks for all human tissue. Scientists say research with them could lead to revolutionary therapies for diseases from Alzheimer's to diabetes. They can be derived from aborted unborn children, fertility clinics' discarded embryos or adults. All types are under intense study, but embryonic stem cells generate the most scientific excitement because they appear the most flexible. However, other doctors say there are alternatives that work just as well and pro-life organizations have begun highlighting the need to protect unborn children from being killed for research purposes.

Privately funded scientists have culled stem cells from embryos donated by parents - a process that does kill the unborn child- and multiplied those cells in a laboratory. The NIH plans to fund embryonic stem cell research using only lab-grown cell lines - NIH scientists can't touch additional embryos. President Bush has signaled he may block the plans.

Under former President Clinton's guidelines, public funding can pay for research but private parties must harvest the cells from frozen embryos left over from in-vitro fertilization. Thomas Hungar, a plaintiffs' attorney, said that position violated a ban on using public money for research in which embryos are knowingly destroyed or discarded. Hungar also said health officials "ignored or disregarded ... other options for achieving important medical advances."

The plaintiffs include the Christian Medical Association, Nightlight Christian Adoption, and private individuals who want to adopt human embryos for implantation.

The lawsuit, also joined by an Indiana professor who contends competition with embryonic researchers will hurt funding of adult stem cell experiments, charges NIH's policy violates a federal ban on taxpayer-funded embryo destruction.

Human Life Advocates, a group opposed to embryonic stem cell research, also is participating in the class-action lawsuit. The suit seeks to "stop the NIH from violating the existing ban against the destruction of human embryos directly or indirectly using taxpayer money" by funding embryonic stem cell research, Samuel Casey, senior staff counsel for Human Life Advocates, said. Congress passed a ban in 1995 on the use of federal funds for the "creation of human embryos solely for research purposes, as well as all types of research in which embryos are 'destroyed, discarded or knowingly subjected to risk of injury or death.'"

The lawsuit names Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson, who is reviewing the NIH policy. An agency spokesman declined comment.



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