Use eggs, not embryos, to derive stem cells, say researchers

Concerns about the ethics of using embryos created to treat infertile couples for stem cell research is discussed by researchers at St Mary’s Hospital, Manchester in this week’s BMJ.

Although the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990 allows the creation of embryos for research in the United Kingdom, the House of Lords Select Committee on stem cell research reported in February 2002 that embryos should not be created unless there is a demonstrable and exceptional need that cannot be met by the use of surplus embryos.

However, the authors believe that embryos created to treat infertile couples are never truly surplus and they propose an alternative solution.

Most in vitro fertilisation programmes discard hundreds of healthy human eggs each year because they are immature or do not fertilise with the partner’s sperm, they write. As such, they suggest that ethically it is far more preferable to create embryos specifically for this work from eggs that are currently discarded, rather than ask infertile couples to provide normal embryos that could be used in their own treatment.

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