Senators Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) are raising concerns about the National Institutes of Health (NIH) revising its mission statement to remove its commitment to “lengthen life.”
In a letter to NIH Director Dr. Monica Bertagnolli, the lawmakers expressed their worries about the potential consequences of this change.
Protecting dignity of people with disabilities
Rubio and Duckworth voiced their concerns that eliminating the goal of “lengthening life” from the NIH’s mission statement without explanation could negatively affect people’s attitudes toward the quality of life of individuals with disabilities.
They emphasized that individuals with disabilities deserve dignity and respect and that stereotypes and bias in research and healthcare sectors must be addressed to provide them with the care they need.
NIH’s proposed mission statement change aims for inclusivity
The NIH had proposed changing its mission statement, which 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.”
Under the proposed change, the statement would read, “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.”
NIH Advisory Committee urged mission statement change for disability inclusion
The NIH’s Advisory Committee recommended the proposal to alter the mission statement to the Director, established in 2021.
The goal was to strengthen support for disability inclusion and remove language related to reducing disability from the mission statement.
The committee believed that the current mission statement could perpetuate ableist beliefs.
Senators concerned about disability views and physician-assisted suicide
The senators highlighted a survey from 2022, in which more than 80% of U.S. physicians reported that individuals with “significant disability” have a worse quality of life than those without disabilities.
They expressed concerns that such views could lead to discrimination in recommending physician-assisted suicide.
Senators demand answers on NIH’s mission statement change
In their letter to the NIH, Rubio and Duckworth requested an explanation for the decision to consider removing “lengthen life” from the mission statement.
They also sought information on the potential impact of this change on the NIH’s research and grant-making priorities.
Additionally, they asked for details on the guidance that would be provided to program officers and whether outside groups were consulted in the decision-making process.
Ongoing debate on physician-assisted death
The senators’ concerns come at a time when physician-assisted death has become a contentious issue in the United States, with multiple states considering legislation to legalize it.
Currently, physician-assisted suicide is legal in Washington and ten other states, with efforts underway in several states.
The revision of the NIH’s mission statement remains pending, but the debate over its implications continues, particularly regarding its potential impact on individuals with disabilities and the broader healthcare landscape.