Vol 5, No 1, 2005

Human Embryonic Stem Cells: Ethics, Myths and Realities

Jack Martin


Human embryonic stem (ES) cells can be obtained by the In Vitro Fertilisation (IVF) procedure. Their interest derives from the fact that they are capable of developing into virtually any cell of the body, given appropriate conditions. They can also be derived by removing the nucleus from a cell of a person’s body and placing it inside an ovum (egg cell) provided by a donor, and from which the nucleus has been removed. This nuclear transfer procedure has become known as "therapeutic cloning." If the manufactured embryo were to be implanted into a uterus it would be called "reproductive cloning." Obviously, these approaches to deriving ES cells involve destruction of the embryo, and it is here that major ethical issues arise, which will be discussed. It must be stressed that research in "therapeutic cloning" is at such an early stage that every step is fraught with difficulties.