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Human embryonic stem cell research: ethical and legal issues


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.

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


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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



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.


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


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


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

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

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