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Georgetwon Geneticist Admits Disobeying Test Ban on Embryos

By Rick Weiss
The Washington Post

A nationally renowned George-town University geneticist acknowledged Tuesday that he had performed human embryo studies at the Jesuit campus without the university's knowledge, in violation of a religious ban on such research there.

The disclosure came less than a week after the National Institutes of Health announced it had severed its relationship with the scientist, Mark R. Hughes, because he had used federal equipment and personnel to perform similar research at a local hospital despite a ban on the use of federal funds for such work.

Georgetown officials said they were investigating the matter but had not yet decided whether to take disciplinary action against Hughes.

Hughes, who heads Georgetown's Institute for Molecular and Human Genetics, was developing ways to spot genetic defects in test-tube embryos. The work was conducted on genetic material retrieved from embryos; an internal investigation headed by Kenneth Dretchen, Georgetown's dean of research, concluded that the work was in violation of the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Services, Fiore said.

In a statement released late Tuesday after a two-hour meeting with Georgetown officials, Hughes said he regretted any embarrassment his research may have caused the university. He emphasized that the work was done for patients at other medical centers around the country and not for patients at Georgetown's hospital.

Hughes's research was done with the written approval of the parents involved. Inherent in the diagnostic procedure is a presumption that defective embryos will be discarded.

That presents a problem if the discarded embryo is considered an aborted child. According to the Catholic directives, "Prenatal diagnosis is not permitted when undertaken with the intention of aborting an unborn child with a serious defect."

Fiore said the university's president, the Rev. Leo J. O'Donovan, ordered the investigation into Hughes's work at Georgetown last week after learning from news reports that Hughes had used federal resources to perform embryo work at Suburban hospital in Bethesda.