Notes from the Hill: Statute prohibits scientists from creating embryos for research, MCC says

In legal comments submitted Sept. 21 to the Department of Public Health by the Massachusetts Catholic Conference, the state has been advised that current law prohibits scientists from mass-producing human embryos through in vitro fertilization for destructive research.

At issue are proposed DPH amendments to regulations implementing a 2005 statute authorizing cloning and embryonic stem-cell research. Researchers complained that the original regulations, adopted during the administration of then-Gov. Mitt Romney, were more restrictive than the statute enacted by the state Legislature. The current regulations were implemented to clarify that the mass fertilization of human embryos for research purposes was not permissible. The proposed amendments seek to realign the regulations with the statute.

The MCC comments inform DPH that regardless of whether the proposed amendments are adopted, the statute itself prohibits the creation of embryos by scientists using in vitro fertilization for the purpose of providing embryos for destructive research. The statute reads: “No person shall knowingly create an embryo by the method of fertilization with the sole intent of donating the embryo for research.” The MCC comments point out that “person” includes any scientist who conducts the fertilization process in the laboratory, and is not limited to couples who undergo in vitro fertilization. Further, the MCC comments note that by virtue of the dictionary meaning of the word “donating,” the statute contemplates, and thus prohibits, any process where scientists obtain egg and sperm from other sources, and create an embryo that is then handed over to be destroyed in research.

The MCC comments conclude that “if there is any ‘cloud’ that inhibits researchers from doing in Massachusetts what is allowed elsewhere” then “that cloud must be directly attributed to the language found in” the 2005 statute.

The Public Health Council, the arm of DPH responsible for approving regulatory changes and consisting of persons appointed by Gov. Deval Patrick, may take up the proposed regulatory amendments when it meets in October.

The Massachusetts Catholic Conference represents the Bishops of the four Roman Catholic dioceses in the Commonwealth, including the Archdiocese of Boston and the dioceses of Fall River, Springfield, and Worcester. Along with numerous other secular and religious groups, the Catholic Church opposes cloning and embryonic stem-cell experiments that destroy human life, while also supporting adult stem-cell research that is already succeeding in treating diseases without endangering human life.