Washington—Moving with great caution, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has decided it can fund research on pluripotent stem cells that come from human embryonic tissues, despite a statutory ban on research involving human embryos.
The argument is that while the cells come from human embryos, they themselves are not human embryos. NIH based its action on a legal opinion from Harriet S. Raab, JD, general counsel of the Department of Health and Human Services, in response to a request from NIH Director Harold Varmus. Last month, Raab informed Varmus that "the statutory prohibition on the use of funds for human embryo research would not apply to research utilizing human pluripotent stem cells because such cells are not a human embryo within the statutory definition . . . . Pluripotent stem cells are not organisms and do not have the capacity to develop into an organism that could perform all the life functions of a human being."
Marwick C. Funding Stem Cell Research. JAMA. 1999;281(8):692-693. doi:10.1001/jama.281.8.692-JMN0224-3-1