Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting nature.com. You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

Human embryonic stem cell research: ethical and legal issues

Abstract

The use of human embryonic stem cells to replace damaged cells and tissues promises future hope for the treatment of many diseases. However, many countries now face complex ethical and legal questions as a result of the research needed to develop these cell-replacement therapies. The challenge that must be met is how to permit research on human embryonic tissue to occur while maintaining respect for human life generally.

Access options

Rent or Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.

from$8.99

All prices are NET prices.

Figure 1: Somatic-cell nuclear cloning for therapeutic purposes.

References

  1. 1

    Thomson, J. A. et al. Embryonic stem cell lines derived from human blastocysts. Science 282, 1145–1147 ( 1998).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  2. 2

    Shamblott, M. J. et al. Derivation of pluripotent stem cells from cultured human primoridial germ cell. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 95, 13726–13731 (1998).

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  3. 3

    Reubinoff, B. E., Pera, M. F., Fong, C. -Y., Trounson, A. & Bongso, A. Embryonic stem cell lines from human blastocysts: somatic differentiation in vitro. Nature Biotechnol. 18, 399–404 ( 2000).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  4. 4

    Andrews, L. State regulation of embryo research, (National Institutes of Health, Papers Commissioned for the Human Embryo Research Panel, Vol. II 1994).

  5. 5

    Public Law No. 105–277, 112 Stat. 2681 ( 1998).

  6. 6

    National Institutes of Health. National Institute of Health Guidelines for Research using Human Pluripotent Stem Cells. Federal Register 65 FR 51976–51981 (2000).

  7. 7

    Department of Health. Stem Cell Research: Medical Progress with Responsibility A report from the chief medical officer's expert group reviewing the potential of developments in stem cell research and cell nuclear replacement to benefit human health (London, June, 2000).

  8. 8

    France: Law No. 94-654 No. 175. 11060–11068 (Journal officiel de la République française, Lois et Decret, 30 July 1994).

  9. 9

    Germany: Law of 13 December 1990 for the protection of embryos (the Embryo Protection Law), (Bundesgestetzblatt, Part I, 2746–2748, 19 December 1990).

  10. 10

    The Infertility Treatment Act 1995 (Act No. 63/1995).

  11. 11

    Szoke, H. in Controversies in Health Law (eds Freckelton, I. & Peterson, K.) 242–243 (Federation, Melbourne, 1999 ).

    Google Scholar 

  12. 12

    Michigan Public Acts 108 (Michigan Comp. Laws #333. 16274) (1998).

  13. 13

    Clarke, D. L. et al. Generalized potential of adult neural stem cells. Science 288, 1660–1663 ( 2000).

    CAS  Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  14. 14

    Dworkin, R. M. Life's Dominion: An Argument About Abortion, Euthanasia, and Individual Freedom (Knopf, New York, 1993).

    Google Scholar 

  15. 15

    Feinberg, J. Harm to Others: The Moral Limits of the Criminal Law (Oxford Univ. Press, New York, 1986).

    Google Scholar 

  16. 16

    Tooley, M. Abortion and infanticide. Phil. Pub. Affairs 2, 1–31 (1972).

    Google Scholar 

  17. 17

    Grobstein, C. The early development of human embryos. J. Med. Phil. 10, 213–220 (1985).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  18. 18

    Robertson, J. A. Children of Choice: Freedom and the New Reproductive Technologies (Princton Univ. Press, Princeton, 1994).

    Google Scholar 

  19. 19

    American Fertility Society. Ethical considerations in the use of new reproductive technologies. Fertil. Steril. 46, S5–S7 (1986).

  20. 20

    Robertson, J. A. Symbolic issues in embryo research. Hastings Center Report 25, 37–38 (1995).

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  21. 21

    Ad Hoc group of consultants to the advisory committee to the Director, NIH. Report of the Human Embryo Research Panel . (National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland, 1994).

  22. 22

    National Bioethics Advisory Commission. The Ethical Use of Human Stem Cells in Research (National Bioethics Advisory Commission, Rockville, Maryland, 1999).

  23. 23

    National Institutes of Health Revitalization Act of 1993, Pub. L. No. 10–43, Sect. 111, 107 Stat. 129 (codified at 42 U. S. C. Sec. 498A).

  24. 24

    Solter, D. Mammalian cloning: advances and limitations. Nature Rev. Genet. 1, 199–207 ( 2000).

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  25. 25

    Robertson, J. A. Embryo research. Western Ontario Law Rev. 24, 15–37 (1986).

    Google Scholar 

  26. 26

    Annas, G. A., Caplan, A. & Elias, S. The politics of human-embryo research — avoiding ethical gridlock. N. Engl. J. Med. 334, 1329–1332 (1996).

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  27. 27

    Lanza, R. P. et al. Extension of cell life-span and telomere length in animals cloned from senescent somatic cells. Science 288, 666–669 (2000).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  28. 28

    Cohen, C. B. (ed.) New Ways of Making Babies: The Case of Egg Donation (Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana, 1996).

    Google Scholar 

  29. 29

    Wade, N. Ethics panel is guarded about hybrid of cow cells. New York Times A7 21 December 1998 ).

Download references

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Related links

Related links

FURTHER INFORMATION

Parliament advisory group's recommendations on therapeutic cloning

The United States Congress' ban on federal funding of human embryo research

Council of Europe's Convention on Human Rights and Biomedicine

UNESCO's Universal Declaration on the Human Genome and Human Rights

United States National Bioethics Advisory Commission

Glossary

TROPHOBLAST CELLS

Cells that contribute to the placenta but not to the embryo itself and that are required for an embryo to implant into the uterine wall.

INNER CELL MASS

Cells that give rise to the embryo proper and that arise from the inner cells of an early preimplantation embryo.

BLASTOCYST

A preimplantation embryo that contains a fluid-filled cavity called a blastocoel.

CLEAVAGE

The mitotic divisions of the early embryo that occur in the absence of growth to divide the embryo into many smaller nucleated cells.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Robertson, J. Human embryonic stem cell research: ethical and legal issues. Nat Rev Genet 2, 74–78 (2001). https://doi.org/10.1038/35047594

Download citation

Further reading

Search

Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing