The NIH's Tithe
by JUSTIN D. BARNARD
Director of the Institute for Intellectual Discipleship
June 25, 2010 - According to a recent Washington Post article, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has rejected a petition to authorize federal funding for research on 47 lines of human embryonic stem cells. Predictably, the decision to reject the request was grounded on mere technicalities, though the latter are trumpeted as “strict new ethical guidelines.”
Commenting on the decision, NIH Director Francis Collins said, “The NIH guidelines for reviewing stem cell lines for federal funding were set up to adhere rigorously to the well-established norms for informed consent. It was frankly rather painful for my expert advisory committee to recommend against approval of 47 additional lines from RGI because of a consent problem, but rigorous guidelines are only meaningful if they are rigorously applied.”
According to the Post, the advisory committee responsible for reviewing the proposal found that the “consent forms permitting use of the embryos contained unusually broad language and those who signed the forms gave up all rights to sue the clinic for any reason.”
To be fair, a certain measure of gratefulness is in order for the fact that a federal government agency sees fit to uphold the rule of law in such a scrupulous fashion. After all, the alternative – varying degrees of governmental corruption – is not at all desirable. But let’s be frank. Had the private research institute which submitted the proposal jumped through the appropriate legal hoops in obtaining informed consent from the parents who deserted their frozen children, the NIH would have gladly welcomed the latter’s disaggregated bodies for further research.
Jesus did not mince words about such public displays of vacuous righteousness: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.” (Matthew 23:23)
Mint, dill, and cumin cannot disguise the taste of rotting meat. The NIH’s tithe of legal guidelines for “informed consent” or “rights to sue” should not deaden our palates to the point we forget the evil that we’re swallowing.