Research updates
Stem cells & therapeutic cloning   page 7
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5. Ethical concerns about stem cell work Link to the Medical Research Council web site
Common ground
Just about everyone agrees that there are no ethical objections to using multipotent stem cells derived from adults, for example from bone marrow. The problem is that most scientists believe that these stem cells are likely to be less valuable for research and in developing new treatments than are the pluripotent stem cells that can only be derived from human embryos. Even if adult stem cells are used for new research, they may be of little use unless a better understanding is gained of how they specialise. This understanding may only come from embryonic stem cells in the first instance.

The embryo
Different people see the status of the human embryo very differently. As the official UK government committee set up to report on human stem cell research – with the Chief Medical Officer, Professor Liam Donaldson, in the chair – said in the year 2000:

A significant body of opinion holds that, as a moral principle, the use of any embryo for research purposes is unethical and unacceptable on the grounds that an embryo should be accorded full human status from the moment of its creation. At the other end of the spectrum, some argue that the embryo requires and deserves no particular moral attention whatsoever. Others accept the special status of an embryo as a potential human being, yet argue that the respect due to the embryo increases as it develops and that this respect, in the early stages in particular, may properly be weighed against the potential benefits arising from the proposed research.

Some other views
Here are a selection of quotations from people for and against the use of human embryos for such research (and see Figure 7). As yet no consensus (agreement) has been reached.

Dr Evan Harris,
Liberal Democrat MP and science spokesperson
This research is very pro-life. The life of a clump of cells smaller than a pin-head – the pre-14-day-old embryo – does deserve some respect. But the lives of people with cancer, diseases such as Parkinson's and organ failure who could be saved by the development of stem cells deserve to be given a higher value.
There is widespread agreement that the huge philosophical and ethical implications of these developments have not been considered fully.
Coalition of 11 religious leaders representing Church of England, Free Church, Jewish, Muslim, Roman Catholic and Sikh traditions
Parkinson's Research Interest Group
Those who oppose this development need to show good reason why people with chronic illnesses should be denied advances in medical treatments that would substantially improve their quality of life.
The cloning of human embryos would be like a bursting of a dam. ... Once human embryos are cloned and used for the breeding of organs, there would immediately be attempts to go further.
Dr Piete Liese,
Member of the European Parliament
Lord Hunt,
Junior Health Minister
The human embryo has a special status, and we owe a measure of respect to the embryo. But we also owe a measure of respect to the millions of people living with these devastating illnesses and the millions who have yet to show signs of them.
To rush to approve the destruction of embryos in order to harvest and experiment on ES cells is inadvisable and unnecessary. We should address the ethical concerns first.
Frank E. Young,
Reformed Theological Seminary, Fourth Presbyterian Church, USA
Professor Julia Polak,
Director of the Tissue Engineering Centre at The Hammersmith Hospital, London
I may feel sorry about two or three cells but also I care about the millions of cells that are a human person.

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Activity 1. Debate - Therapeutic cloning and the sale of eggs
Therapeutic cloning, illustrated in Figure 8, requires haploid egg cells. These would have to come from women who would need to undergo a surgical procedure. It would be more 'efficient' if they received a prior course of hormonal treatment to make them superovulate, so that around 10–12 eggs could be obtained rather than just one.

1. List the factual information you would need to have before deciding whether it would be ethically acceptable for eggs to be obtained in this way.
[Hint: think about such issues as the likely demand for eggs, the number of women who would need to provide eggs, their safety, and so on.]

2. Suppose it is decided in the UK that it is permissible to use eggs in this way, do you think women should be allowed to sell their eggs (as they are in the USA) for in vitro fertilisation, or should they only receive expenses – as in the UK in vitro fertilisation? Provide arguments to support your point of view.
[Hint: think about the right of women to choose for themselves, about whether we should allow people to sell blood, and so on.]

3. Organise a debate in which both sides of the question are argued for (a) whether therapeutic cloning should be permitted; (b) if it is, whether women who provide eggs are entitled to sell them.