NIH mission statement change draws scrutiny

A bipartisan pair of lawmakers is raising concerns over a new proposal to change the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) mission statement to drop its stated goal to “lengthen life.”

Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) said in a letter Wednesday that such a change “without explanation or justification” could negatively impact the “existing attitudes towards the quality of life of people with disabilities,” alluding to the rising occurrence of state-sanctioned, physician-assisted suicide. 

 

“While we applaud the NIH for recognizing the disparity in current healthcare research and delivery for people with disabilities, we remain concerned about the proposal to remove ‘lengthen life’ from the NIH’s overall mission statement,” the senators wrote. 

 

The proposed change: 

  • NIH’s current mission statement reads that its aim is 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.” 
  • The new mission statement is nearly identical, except the latter half reads the agency would use its knowledge to “optimize health and prevent or reduce illness for all people.” 

Rubio and Duckworth have asked NIH Director Monica Bertagnolli explain why her agency is considering dropping “lengthen life” from the mission statement and what impact the shift could have on the department’s work. 

The NIH has not publicly responded to the senators’ letter. 

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