Stem cells from residual IVF-embryos - Continuation of life justifies isolation.
SourceMedical Hypotheses, 69, 3, (2007), pp. 478-480
Article / Letter to editor
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Paediatrics - OUD tm 2017
SubjectNCMLS 1: Immunity, infection and tissue repair; UMCN 2.1: Heart, lung and circulation; UMCN 4.1: Microbial pathogenesis and host defense
Embryonic stem cells are undifferentiated pluripotent cells that can indefinitely grow in vitro. They are derived from the inner mass of early embryos. Because of their ability to differentiate into all three embryonic germ layers, and finally into specialized somatic cell types, human embryonic stem cells represent important material for studying developmental biology and cell replacement therapy. They are usually isolated from excess human IVF-embryos. Since many people regard isolation of human stem cells as intentional killing of the embryo, it is a very difficult ethical problem. Similar feelings concern medical or scientific use of these stem cells. Is this feeling correct, or does it arise from a sentimental view? The problem encloses two aspects: (i) use of stem cells for medical therapy and scientific research and (ii) isolation of stem cells from human IVF-embryos. Worldwide human tissues are cultured, transplanted and used for medical and scientific research. Therefore, it may be concluded that factual use of human embryonic stem cells cannot be a real ethical problem. The main key of the problem seems to be hidden in the exact definition of 'death'; in other words: is there nothing between 'death' and 'life'? Bacterial spores, lyophilised bacteria and other micro-organisms, micro-organisms stored in glycerol mixtures at -80 degrees C and tissue cultures and sperm cells stored in liquid nitrogen, they are all neither dead nor alive, but still viable. From this point it is clear that there is more than the antithesis 'dead' versus 'alive'. In addition, we think that there is still another alternative: partial death. The present view concerning isolation of stem cells implies that residual embryos and thus new human lives are killed, and that therefore these embryos must be (passively) destroyed. However, it is especially the very well planned IVF-procedure that makes that passive destruction of not-implanted embryos means intentional killing. By isolation of stem cells embryos are not fully killed: at least one embryonic cell, i.e., a stem cell, remains alive. The life of stem cells cannot be qualified as independent. Nevertheless, the embryo's life is not completely stopped and continues in a primitive way of life and consequently it is not completely dead. Against this background we feel that isolation of human embryonic stem cells is preferred instead of passive destruction.
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