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The Use of Embryonic Stem Cells for Therapeutic Research

The Use of Embryonic Stem Cells for Therapeutic research
Report of the Bioethics Advisory Committee
of the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities
August 2001


Human embryonic stem cells for use in medical research: Embryonic stem cells are extracted form an embryo at the blastocyst sage (one week after in vitro fertilization).
Stem cells have the ability to develop into all different cell types, and may substitute damaged tissues of organs.
The use of stem cells is an important breakthrough in medical research, which may hopefully lead to the treatment of human illnesses that are currently considered difficult or impossible to treat (e.g. nervous system diseases, heart infarction, bone and cartilage diseases, cancer and immune diseases, diabetes, etc.).
It may also be beneficial to the development of transplantable tissues developed in vitro from stem cells.
They may also be used in autologous transplants - the use of stem cells from the recipient, through nuclear transfer technology (therapeutic cloning). They would then not be subject to immune rejection.
Two main issues present themselves here:
1. Scientific-technological:
The research is in its early stages, and much further study is needed to assure that treatment with stem cells will indeed achieve its aims with minimal risk. It is also important to compare embryonic stem cells to other stem cells.
2. Moral-ethical (on which this document focuses):
Is it ethically acceptable to extract cells from a human embryo prior to its implantation in the uterus, thereby ending its potential development into a human being, for medical research?
The committee believes that every entity, from a fertilized ovum to an embryo during pregnancy, must be respected, according to its stage of development. Thus, the issue central to this ethical problem is the status we attribute to the blastocyst in vitro, at the pre-implantation stage.
The committee distinguishes between three categories of in vitro stem cells:
1. Embryos designated to be implanted in the uterus, whose use for any other purpose is strictly forbidden in all cases.
2. Embryos not designated to be implanted in the uterus (surplus to requirements).
3. Blastocysts created by nuclear transfer (therapeutic cloning), not designated for implantation.
Recognizing the immense importance of this issue, the committee believes that it is permissible to make arrangements for contribution of embryos of the second category and the creation of blastocyst of the third category in order to extract from them embryonic stem cells for medical research - this, under defined and controlled conditions and detailed and clear directions, as delineated in this report.
In view of the major importance of medical research on embryonic stem cells for medicine, for people and for the human race, the committee recommends the use of human embryonic stem cells for medical research. This must be done subject to the laws in Israel, with moral reservations as stated in the UN ´´Universal Declaration of the Human Genome and Human Rights´´ of 1999.
The committee also proposes to the government to adopt its recommendations and to anchor the use of human embryonic stem cells for use in medical research, applying rules and regulations (or changes in such regulations), and if needed - the passing of special laws.
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