17 May 2007

Chimera Ban Lifted

As widely expected, the Government has caved in to pressure over its proposed chimera research ban and will now permit the creation of "inter-species entities"—that is, human-animal hybrid embryos—for research.

Regulars of this blog will be familiar with fears that Britain's apparent dismissal of a number of international ethical agreements means we increasingly risk becoming known as an ethical rogue state. It will be interesting to see what feedback we receive from international sources over this latest draft Human Tissue and Embryos Bill.

The changes also remove a baby's right to a father, affording single women and lesbian couples in a civil partnership with the same "human rights" as married women, meaning that it will be easier for them to receive IVF treatment.

Afternoon UPDATE: Here's the first of the American commentary on today's Government U-turn: The Island Of Dr. Moreau, which asks "What happened to all of the European concern over genetic purity?"—a good question, in view of the European Parliament's decision at the end of last month to adopt new rules authorising so-called "advanced therapies" (adult stem-cell therapy, gene therapy, and tissue engineering) despite "considerable misgivings from some MEPs over ethical questions," principally from members in Eastern Europe, Italy and Germany, who warned "If Europe rightly wants to set human rights standards in the world, it can not afford to adopt a 'passive position' when it comes to advanced therapies."


MissJennie said...

As far as I understand it, the reasoning behind wanting to create these embryos is for the purpose of embryonic stem-cell research. Can anyone explain to me why some scientists persist in their single-minded pursuit of embryonic stem-cell solutions to diseases etc, when adult stem cells are abundantly available, cause none of the ethical problems, and have already been used successfully in the treatment of many conditions?
Is there something I am missing?

Dr John, The Difference said...

MissJennie, two crucial differences are that embryonic stem cells are more easily cultivated in the lab and have greater capacity to give rise to a whole range of cell types. By being allowed to create human-animal hybrid embryos, the scientists will be able to harvest eggs from abattoirs rather than being dependent on scarce donations of human eggs from women undergoing IVF treatment.

MissJennie said...

Yes, but why do they want embryonic cells at all? Why aren't the adult ones good enough?

MissJennie said...

Oops, sorry, dr john, just re-read your comment properly.

If the money, time and effort chanelled into embryonic stem cell research was given instead to adult stem cell research, could it not be the case that the adult cells would be found to give rise to a whole range of cell types?

Have embryonic cells yet been used to treat anything at all in humans? I have been led to understand that so far they have only been tested on animals, for a limited number of diseases, and have a high propensity to cause cancer in those animals.

It seems that a lot of time, effort and money is being put into something ethically complex that we hope will eventually work, instead of into the ethically neutral route which is already working. As you can tell, I don't know all the complexities of it, but am happy to be educated!


Roxoroxy said...

Half-full or half empty?
The white paper said the research would be banned except under license; the draft bill leaves it legal but subject to licensing.
Arguably the change of emphasis is trivial but it has certainly been hyped up as significant by commentators both for and against the research.
However, as Evan Harris has pointed out, the difference in content is insubstantial: "They've deliberately spun it to give the appearance that they've made this concession without making this concession,"
However, it seems to me that the difference is profound: the first proposal preserves in law the notion that human-animal hybrids are profoundly unnatural, and that we tamper at this level at our peril. The new proposal buys into the argument that human-animal hybrids are ethicially trivial, requiring regulation only to preserve public trust and prevent abuse. There is an important difference between half-full and half-empty; we should not dismiss it.