By Susan Brinkmann, OCDS
The acting deputy director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has confirmed that it is now culling through thousands of public comments submitted to the agency regarding new guidelines on embryonic stem cell research. According to the agency, they received 20,000 comments in the last four days of the comment period alone.
“We will develop the guidelines as expeditiously as possible,” said Dr. Lawrence Tabak, acting NIH deputy director, according to a report by the Christian Post.
The new guidelines are in response to an executive order by President Obama on March 8 which will allow taxpayer funding of embryonic stem cell research. Under the proposed guidelines, funding will be allowed for research using only those human embryonic stem cells that were derived from embryos created by in vitro fertilization (IVF) for reproductive purposes and which are no longer needed for that purpose.
However, many conservatives have raised concerns in their comments about the guidelines which they say do not prevent conflicts of interest between the reproductive facility and the research facility and that they may be setting the stage for abuses of the new policy.
“Infertility clinics can simply create more embryos at the outset, ostensibly for fertility treatment, so they will have more ‘spares’ left for research,” states comments filed on behalf of several pro-life organizations on May 26 – the last day the NIH was receiving comments.
The NIH is also being criticized for the limited amount of time being allowed for public comment, which is due to the president’s push to have the final guidelines issued before July 7.
Groups such as the Alliance Defense Fund, the Family Research Council, Concerned Women for America, the Christian Medical Association, and Advocates International, commented on the short time period, saying: “A mere 34-day comment period does not afford interested parties an adequate opportunity to comprehensively review and comment on the Guidelines-especially given the scientific complexity and ethical ramifications of the Guidelines.”
Ten years ago, when the NIH published a Notice of its Draft Guidelines for Research Involving Human Pluripotent Stem Cells, it gave the public 60 days to comment, a period that was later extended by an additional 28 days.
“[T]he inadequate comment period precludes the NIH from having sufficient information to engage in informed rulemaking,” the pro-life groups asserted.
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