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This Key Barrier to Experimenting on America's Youngest Humans Is Now at Risk

Newborn baby (Adobe stock photo)


Under the Biden administration, longstanding protections for innocent human life have come under unprecedented attack, with major battles happening in Congress now as Democrats push to eliminate key pro-life policies like the Hyde Amendment from their spending proposals. Will President Biden, Senator Schumer, and Speaker Pelosi follow the precedent set by every president and Congress since 1996 and support another key pro-life policy – the prohibition of taxpayer funding for inhumane experiments on embryos … the youngest human lives?

Millions of vulnerable young lives – unborn humans – have been exploited for experiments and then destroyed in the name of science.  But every year since 1996, Republican and Democratic Congresses and presidents have demonstrated a bipartisan consensus that American taxpayers should not be forced to fund these controversial, unethical experiments on human embryos by passing the Dickey-Wicker Amendment. This bipartisan policy should continue.

First signed into law by President Clinton, Dickey-Wicker prohibits federal taxpayer funding under the Labor, Health and Human Services spending bill for: 

  1.  the creation of human embryos for research purposes, or 
  2.  research in which human embryos are destroyed, discarded, or knowingly subjected to risk of injury or death greater than that allowed for research on fetuses in utero.  

In short: No federal funds for creating, destroying or risking harm to human embryos for research experiments.  

Other federal regulations define and protect young human beings in the womb, but do not protect younger human beings who are not in the womb.

The Dickey-Wicker Amendment was put in place in response to proposals to allow human embryo experimentation.  The NIH Human Embryo Research Panel (HERP) was appointed in 1994 (in lieu of a formal Ethics Advisory Board) supposedly to debate the ethics of human embryo research.  But at the first meeting, the chairman ironically announced that the panel's mission was not to debate embryo research but to recommend types of experiments for federal funding.  He went on to tell the group that anyone who disagreed with that goal had been appointed by mistake and should resign.  The biased panel then laid out a series of recommendations for taxpayer funding of various experiments using human embryos, including creation of human embryos specifically for destructive research.  

But while the panel's proposals were praised by scientists and administrators at NIH, even President Clinton rejected them. Passage of the Dickey-Wicker Amendment was a stern repudiation of the overreach of scientists who considered human embryos nothing more than lab rats to be used and discarded. 

More challenges now loom in which Dickey-Wicker will play an important role as a barrier against unethical experimentation.  There are now proposals to fund destructive research involving human-animal hybrids known as chimeras, cloned embryos, gene-edited and three-parent embryos, embryos created by mixing stem cells, and even growing embryos for extended periods in the laboratory – paving the way for experiments on tiny babies with beating hearts, along with developing eyes, ears, and central nervous systems. Internationally we see the abandoning of ethical guidelines to allow for such inhumane experiments. 

Meanwhile, ethical, scientifically superior alternatives – including adult stem cells – are already helping patients, while embryo-destructive research has failed.

The American people have stood resolutely against taxpayer-funded experiments that put the lives of the unborn at risk of manipulation in the name of science. Current political leaders should heed the call of the people they represent and protect the Dickey-Wicker Amendment, not discard it as some would discard an embryo after a failed and unethical experiment. 

According to a Talmudic saying: "Whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world."  The Dickey-Wicker Amendment has saved millions of worlds and Congress should continue its mission.

Marjorie Dannenfelser is president of the national pro-life group Susan B. Anthony List. David A. Prentice, Ph.D., is vice president and research director of the Charlotte Lozier Institute.

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