Ethical questions concerning research on human embryos, embryonic stem cells and chimeras

Authors

  • Monika Bobbert Dr.

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Medical Ethics at the Institute for the History of Medicine, Medical Faculty of the University of Heidelberg, Heidelberg, Germany
    • Medical Faculty of the University of Heidelberg, Im Neuenheimer Feld 327, 69120 Heidelberg, Germany, Fax: +49(0)6221/545457
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Abstract

Research using human embryos and embryonic stem cells is viewed as important for various reasons. Apart from questions concerning legal regulations, numerous ethical objections are raised pertaining to the use of surplus embryos from reproductive medicine as well as the creation of embryos and stem cells through cloning. In the hopes of avoiding ethical problems, alternatives have been proposed including the extraction of egg cells from “dead” embryos derived from in vitro fertilization procedures, the extraction of pluripotent stem cells from blastocysts, technologies such as “altered nuclear transfer” (ANT) and “oocyte-assisted reprogramming” (ANT-OAR) as well as parthenogenesis. Initial ethical assessments show that certain questions pertaining to such strategies have remained unanswered. Furthermore, with the help of new or more differentiated biotechnological procedures, it is possible to create chimeras and hybrids in which human and non-human cells are combined. Human-animal chimeras, in which gametes or embryonic tissue have been mixed with embryonic or adult stem cells, demonstrate a different “quality” and “degree of penetration” from those produced in previous experiments. Not only does this have consequences regarding questions of patentability, this situation also raises fundamental questions concerning the human being's self image, the concept of person, identity and species and the moral rights and duties that are connected with such concepts. There is a need for legal regulation, on the national as well as the international level.

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