Human stem cell research

Comment on the Parliament resolution on “Human Cloning ” dated September 7, 2000. Doc.: B5-0710, 0751, 0753 and 0764/2000

Ethics & Control of research

In the formulation of this debate, and in any proposed policy or regulation there are two key areas to be addressed – ethical and regulatory.

We recommend that in any proposals made, respect for the embryo is paramount1. Also that proper regulation be made that prohibits cloning and that all donors be specically asked to consent to the research.

Lord Winston2 summarised it elloquently. “The negative consequences of not deciding now are many. Delay will mean that more people die without effective treatment. It will mean that researchers go abroad where there are fewer regulations. The system of controls we have in this country (the UK) is strict and has many checks and balances. It is admired by many other countries. What is more, it is accepted by the community. I believe the scientists who do this work will be doing a great service to humanity. But I would rather see it done here, where we have strict controls, than anywhere else in the world”.

We feel his comments, about the UK regulatory framework should be applied across Europe.

Core issues

ORIGIN OF STEM CELLS

Early stem cell trials on patients with Parkinson were performed using cells from pig foetuses, and the so-called Alberta Protocol includes the administration to diabetic patients of a solution of islet cells derived from pancreas from corpses. These sources are in no way optimal technologically nor ethically.

As patients, we believe that this research should take place using the best possible cells with the highest possible level of stability and safety: human embryonic stem cells.

Embryonic stem cells are at the origin of more than 200 cell types in our fully developed body. They can be divided and multiplied endlessly in laboratories and they can be modified into any cell type needed by patients. Embryonic stem cells can be harvested from fertilized eggs unused after in vitro fertilization (IVF). They can also be developed via nuclear transfer on unfertilized egg cells – a procedure which in no way involves neither foetuses nor embryos. Also gene therapy can correct inborn inherited defects in the DNA of the transplanted nucleus.

In the long view it may be possible to harvest stem cells from adults. Up to now, however, it has only been possible to make them grow into a small number of cell types, and it has also been found that cells derived from adult stem cells are not stable because they spontaneously revert to the original cell type. For that reason The Royal Academy (UK) is of the opinion that research here and now should be based on embryonic stem cells in order to avoid that medical progress is delayed unnecessarily.

We believe, with proper regulation & controls, that the present regulation of stem cell research as extremely important for the development of new medicinces and medical products.

EXISTING MODELS

We urge the Members of the European Parliament to create the optimal framework for stem cell research both in terms of legislation and funding oportunities. We recommend a common position on European policy and regulations, taking into account the recomendations of Professor Liam Donaldson, Chief Medical Officer (UK), in the report “Stem Cell Research: Medical Progress with Responsibility3, Department of Health, June 2000, and adopted by the British Parliament in December 2000/January 2001.

RECOMMENDATIONS

  1. That the Parliament allows full stem cell research in Europe.
  2. Those full regulatory controls are introduced including licensing of all research.
  3. That the specific, informed, written consent of donors be obtained.
  4. That the use of this approach to further human cloning should be forbidden.
  5. That the provisions of the Directive on Biotechnology be taken into account.

1 Nuffield Council on Bioethics, Stem Cell Therapy: The Ethical Issues see website

2 Hansard 210122-09, Debate in the House of Lords 22 January 2001 see website

3 Department of Health, Stem Cell Research: Medical Progress with Responsibility: Department of Health, Stem Cell Research: Medical Progress with Responsibility: see website 16 August 2000

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