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Bioethics Panel Backs Embryo Research

A presidential ethics panel is ready to endorse a tolerant federal policy on the use of human cells extracted from an embryo or aborted fetus. Yesterday, the National Bioethics Advisory Commission (NBAC) tentatively approved a draft report urging the government to permit both the use of embryonic stem cells and a controversial harvesting technique.

Stem cells are prized because scientists believe they could be coaxed to develop into almost any body tissue. But Congress has banned federal funding of embryo-harming research due to moral concerns, though the National Institutes of Health interprets the law to mean that grantees may use stem cells if they are taken from fetuses, or if someone else extracts them from embryos.

NBAC's draft says it should be "ethically acceptable" to use such cells, and to cultivate them from unused "embryos remaining after infertility treatments." Whether Congress will go along with that advice, however, isn't clear.