Bipartisan duo raises concerns about proposal to drop the words ‘lengthen life’ from NIH’s mission statement

A bipatisan Senate duo is expressing concern about a proposal to drop the words “lengthen life” from the National Institutes of Health mission statement.

The NIH’s mission statement currently reads, “to seek fundamental knowledge about the nature and behavior of living systems and the application of that knowledge to enhance health, lengthen life, and reduce illness and disability.” But a proposed new mission statement reads, “To seek fundamental knowledge about the nature and behavior of living systems and to apply that knowledge to optimize health and prevent or reduce illness for all people.”

In their letter to NIH Director Monica Bertagnolli, Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida and Democratic Sen. Tammy Duckworth of Illinois brought up the issue of doctor-assisted suicide.

“Amid the rising openness of some countries, such as Canada and the Netherlands, as well as a handful of states toward physician-assisted suicide, we are concerned that eliminating the stated goal of lengthening life within the NIH’s mission statement without explanation or justification could have a negative impact on people’s existing attitudes towards the quality of life of people with disabilities. People with disabilities deserve to be treated with the same dignity and respect as non-disabled people, but stereotypes and bias in the research and healthcare sectors continue to prevent people with disabilities from getting the care they need, when they need it,” the lawmakers said in the letter.

The senators asked several questions, including what motivation drove the proposal to nix the words “lengthen life” from the mission statement.

A 2022 report by the Advisory Committee to the Director Working Group on Diversity, Subgroup on Individuals with Disabilities recommended that the NIH strike the reference to disability from the mission statement. “The current mission statement could be interpreted as perpetuating ableist beliefs that disabled people are flawed and need to be ‘fixed,'” the report stated. The report did not take issue with the mission statement’s “lengthen life” language.

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