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Background

Scientific progress in the biology of hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs) provides opportunities for advances in therapy for different diseases. While stem cell sources such as umbilical cord blood (UCB) are unproblematic, other sources such as human embryonic stem cells (hESCs) raise ethical concerns.

Study Design and Methods

In a prospective survey we established the ethical acceptability of collection, research, and therapy with UCB HSCs versus hESCs among health care professionals, pregnant women, patients undergoing in vitro fertilization therapy, parents, and HSC donors and recipients in Switzerland.

Results

There was overall agreement about an ethical justification for the collection of UCB for research and therapy in the majority of participants (82%). In contrast, research and therapy with hESCs was acceptable only by a minority (38% of all responders). The collection of hESCs solely created for HSC collection purposes met overall with the lowest approval rates. Hematologists displayed among the participants the highest acceptance rates for the use of hESCs with 55% for collection, 63% for research, and 73% for therapy.

Conclusions

This is the first study assessing the perception of hESCs for research and therapy in comparison with UCB HSCs in different target groups that are exposed directly, indirectly, or not at all to stem cell–based medicine. Our study shows that the debate over the legitimacy of embryo-destructive transplantation medicine is far from over as particularly hESC research continues to present an ethical problem to an overwhelming majority among laypersons and even among health care professionals.