Does life begin at fertilisation? Does the hollow ball of 100 cells called a “blastocyst” – formed five days after fertilisation – have human rights? And is it unethical for scientists to extract stem cells from a blastocyst, destroying it in the process? Or would it be morally wrong to abandon millions of people to their suffering when such a procedure represents a likely cure for more than 70 major diseases?
Stem cell research is an extremely promising field of study that could, potentially, result in cures or new treatments for a range of diseases including Parkinson’s, diabetes, leukaemia and heart disease. Embryonic stem cells are usually taken from four to five day old embryos (blastocysts) that were produced during IVF fertility treatment. It is worth pointing out that these embryos had been rejected for implantation and would anyway be destroyed if not used in research.
Not all stem cell research involves embryos. Adult stem cells can also be extracted, for example from bone marrow or blood, but unlike embryonic stem cells they are more restricted in what cell types they can grow into. There are advances being made into something called “Induced pluripotent stem cells” (also known as iPS cells or iPSCs), which are adult cells that are genetically “reprogrammed” to behave like embryonic stem cells. However, this technology is still very new and is not yet a perfect replacement for embryonic stem cells.
Should stem cell research involving human embryos be banned? Is a human embryo equivalent to a human child? Does life begin at fertilisation? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below, and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!