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Doctors endorse research cloning

Largest US medical group finds research with human embryonic stem cells to be ethical

June 20, 2003
By Ed Susman
The Scientist
Chicago, Ill.

The ethics panel of the American Medical Association (AMA) concluded this week that the use of human embryonic stem cells (HESC) in medical research is permissible, including "therapeutic cloning." The new policy puts the normally conservative AMA, the largest medical organization in the United States, in opposition to the Bush administration's position on HESC research.

Although opposition to the use of embryonic tissue was raised in committee hearings, when the proposal reached the floor of the AMA's House of Delegates Annual Meeting on Tuesday (June 17, 2003), the ethics panel report was included with several other items of business and was accepted without dissent.

In a later parliamentary move to debate the opinion in conjunction with discussion of its companion report offered by the Council on Scientific Affairs, John McMahon, a general surgeon and delegate from Helena, Mont., sought to have both reports referred to the Board of Trustees for further consideration. After brief discussion, that move was defeated by a vote of 318 to 28.

Michael Goldrich, incoming chairman of the ethics panel, said the lack of debate over the issue among the delegates indicates "that we have reached confluence with the House of Delegates on this issue. We have supported their right to personal beliefs, and at the same time we are allowing science to move forward."

The opinion of the Council on Ethical and Judicial Affairs (CEJA) supports the use of stem cell and cloning technology to create replacement tissue or therapeutic options for patients. The report does not, however, overturn previous reports by the CEJA that state cloning technology to create a human being is unethical.

"The opinion says that it is ethical to engage in stem cell research but it is not mandatory," explained John Nelson, president-elect of the AMA. The opinion allows physicians with personal convictions that such research on embryos is unethical not to work on those projects, he added.

The CEJA report notes that a major resource for embryonic stem cells could come from frozen embryos created for couples undergoing in vitro fertilization procedures who no longer desire more children.

US President George W. Bush has rejected the idea of using those embryos for scientific research.

In a companion report, Scott Deitchman, chairman of the AMA's Council on Scientific Affairs, wrote, "The use of somatic cell nuclear transfer technology for regenerative medicine—therapeutic cloning—should also be supported while the use of this technology for the specific purpose of producing a human child—reproductive cloning—should not."

The council also found that the use of "multipotent stem cells in biomedical research, including adult and cord blood stem cells, should be supported," Deitchman reported.

Leonard Morse, chairman of CEJA, noted that the opinion is not final until it is reviewed by the CEJA and published at the next meeting of the House of Delegates in Honolulu, Hawaii, in December. The report could be brought up for debate at that time, he said.

Copyright © 2003, The Scientist Inc.