October 13, 2003
In a letter in this week’s British Medical Journal, a group of British scientists offer a solution to stem cell research they say is more ethical than previous solutions.
Scientists and lawmakers are concerned about the ethics of using excess embryos created for infertile couples for stem cell research. These researchers now recommend scientists should derive stem cells from the hundreds of healthy human eggs discarded each year by in vitro fertilization programs.
In England, the Human Fertilization and Embryology Act 1990 allows the creation of embryos for research in the United Kingdom; however, in 2002, the House of Lords Select Committee on stem cell research said that embryos should not be created unless there is a demonstrable and exceptional need that cannot be met by the use of surplus embryos. The researchers contend that embryos created to treat infertile couples are “never truly surplus.”
In an article in the current issue of the British Medical Journal, researchers from St. Mary’s Hospital in Manchester, England say embryos created for infertile couples are used in treatment, preserved for the couple’s future use, donated to another couple, or used in infertility treatment research. The authors propose using healthy human eggs, which are normally discarded by in vitro programs because they are immature or do not fertilize with the partner’s sperm. They say the eggs could be fertilized with sperm from a fertile donor, and most eggs would form viable embryos, which could be used for stem cell derivation.
In the authors’ opinion, this is a more ethical way to continue stem cell research. They write, “Embryonic stem cells have huge promise and we think ethically it is far preferable to create embryos specifically for this work from eggs that are currently discarded, rather than ask infertile couple to provide normal embryos that could be used in their own treatment.”
In 2001, President George W. Bush announced that in the United States, no federal funding would be given to new embryonic stem cell retrieval, essentially putting a stop to money for new research on embryos.
This article was reported by Ivanhoe.com, who offers Medical Alerts by e-mail every day of the week. To subscribe, go to: http://www.ivanhoe.com/newsalert/.
SOURCE: British Medical Journal, 2003;327:872
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