OTTAWA, Mar 29, 2001 ( – A set of draft guidelines for federally funded research would allow research using human embryos, but would not allow the cloning of human embryos for research.

The Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) ad hoc Working Group on Stem Cell Research released a discussion paper today with the intent of soliciting feedback from researchers as well as the public regarding this controversial research. CIHR hopes to issue a set of official guidelines by the fall. Canadian scientists are chafing at the bit to pursue research in this field but are constrained primarily by the lack of an ethical framework to guide such work in this country.

During the press conference attended by LifeSite, one CIHR spokesman claimed that it does not have any predetermined positions as to what the final guidelines should look like. Currently, they have indicated support for research on human embryos up to two weeks old. Pro-life activists are not confident that the government will be open to changing that provision, but Campaign Life Coalition and other pro-life groups will be urging them to do so, using the public consultation process to express their position on the issue.

Pro-life lobbyists have been urging researchers to commit themselves to use only adult stem cells. The CIHR acknowledges that adult stem cells also have value in the kind of work that researchers want to pursue to find cures for degenerative diseases, although they maintain that embryonic cells are more useful for the kind of research scientists want to pursue: “Stem cells have a wide range of ‘potency’, ranging from embryonic stem cells that are capable of differentiating into all cell types, to stem cells found in adult tissues such as brain, muscle, and blood, that have a more limited range.”

CIHR, however, acknowledges that “recent evidence that adult stem cells may have broader potency than first thought raises possibilities for reprogramming adults stem cells for tissue-based repair.” CLC will be encouraging the government agency to produce guidelines limiting government funding for stem cell research only to researchers who limit their work to using adult cells. If, as the CIHR says, “Canada has some of the world’s pre-eminent stem cell researchers,” let them demonstrate this by excelling in ethical research, leaving tiny unborn babies alone.

The CIHR guidelines will place no obligation on researchers using private money. The spokesmen said they were not aware of any private funding being provided in Canada at this time. They added that they hoped all researchers in Canada would respect the guidelines, adding that they hoped the recommendations would also be translated into related legislation that would apply to all scientists in the country.

The two criteria that the CIHR spokesmen said would guide their disbursement of money are whether the research being proposed is “scientifically sound” and “ethically permissible.” The feedback they receive in coming months will guide them as they develop the definitions of these terms.

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