“You can’t just do things with people’s tissues without talking to them about it,” said UK stem cell expert Peter Braude this morning. This, to a participant who asked whether it was OK to take embryos which women had given their permission to discard, and use them to extract stem cells. Ethicists must be squirming.
Many of these people spend their time trying to get their hands on eggs and create embryos. So it was refreshing to hear Braude talk about how to do this ethically, even if he did it at a galloping pace.
Braude said he was troubled by one proposed way to get embryos for stem cell research. The idea is to identify IVF embryos that are defective in some way (because genetic tests have shown that their chromosomes are abnormal). These embryos are not considered fit to replace into a woman, but maybe they could be used for research.
Braude points out that many of the cells in this embryo may actually be genetically normal and that the embryo might continue to develop normally – so it is difficult to argue that they are good enough for stem cell research but not good enough to form a baby. “I’m unhappy about the idea that we can declare embryos unfit for therapy but suitable for research,” he said.
This whole topic “is not uncontroversial,” he said, with typical British understatement