Human Embryo Development for Research: The Ethical Issues
Since these spare embryos will no longer be used for a procreative end, some commentators maintain, it is ethically sound to use them for research that has a therapeutic end. They argue that the ultimate goal of such research, to treat those who are sick and suffering, is as worthy as the goal of reproduction and justifies using, rather than discarding, these remaining embryos. Early human embryos do not have the same moral significance as individual living human beings, they maintain, and are not owed protection from destruction in such research. Consequently, it is ethically acceptable, in their view, to use these spare embryos in stem cell research.
Others believe that human embryos are individual living human beings and that it is wrong to create embryos and then destroy them in research, no matter how beneficial that research might be. For instance, Dr.Robert George, an McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence and director of the James Madison Program at Princeton University, and member of the President’s Council on Bioethics, also, Patrick Lee professor of bioethics at the Franciscan University of Steubenville, declare: No one would object to the use of embryonic stem cells in biomedical research or therapy if they could be harvested without killing or harming the embryos from whom they were obtained. . .
The point of the controversy is the ethics of deliberately destroying human embryos for the purpose of harvesting their stem cells. The threshold question is whether it is unjust to kill members of a certain class of human beings—those in the embryonic stage of development—to benefit others. They argue that the lives of some human beings should not be sacrificed in order to develop cures for others. Every spare embryo should be used for a procreative end, in their view. They do not address what should be done with those embryos developed by means of IVF that are not viable and therefore are not suitable for procreative purposes. The key issue here is how we should view the moral significance of early human embryos. If all early embryos were individual human beings, that would close this discussion. However, there are serious reasons to question whether this is the case and to argue that both procreation and regeneration are ethically sound ends to which to direct the use of early human embryos.
A Possible Deliberated Overproduction of Spare Human Embryos
An ethical and policy concern that has been raised about the use of spare human embryos in stem cell research is that some infertility specialists might deliberately develop more embryos than it is reasonable to produce in IVF treatment without the knowledge of their patients. They might do so, on this hypothesis, in order to provide these embryos to colleagues who are stem cell investigators for research. Although infertility specialists indicate that such overproduction does not occur, there is currently no way to verify that this is the case in the United States. Professional guidelines promulgated by the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) recognize this possibility in passing but offer no proposal to address it. This issue surfaces because little is known in a systematic way about what goes on as a matter of practice during the course of IVF treatments.
Few methods have been developed in common by assisted reproduction clinics across the country to cope with the wide range of informed consent and other patient care issues that arise in IVF. This is the situation despite persistent calls for better ways of ensuring that patients are appropriately informed about what IVF and egg retrieval involve and for improved methods of discouraging infertility specialists from overproducing embryos in attempts to increase the pregnancy rates at their clinics and thereby attract greater numbers of prospective patients.
Developing Embryos By Means of In Vitro Fertilization
Embryos have been developed specifically for stem cell research by means of IVF. In such instances, the IVF procedure described before (see is carried out with eggs and sperm that are donated for research. The resulting embryos are grown in culture, and at about five or six days after fertilization, when they have reached the blastocyst stage, stem cells are removed from their inner cell mass. Researchers then use these stem cells in various forms of stem cell research. Embryos have been developed specifically for stem cell research by means of IVF. In such instances, the IVF procedure described before is carried out with eggs and sperm that are donated for research. The resulting embryos are grown in culture, and at about five or six days after fertilization, when they have reached the blastocyst stage, stem cells are removed from their inner cell mass. Researchers then use these stem cells in various forms of stem cell research.