Researcher Says Couples Should Create Human Embryos for Experiments

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Sep 28, 2003   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Researcher Says Couples Should Create Human Embryos for Experiments

by Steven Ertelt Editor
September 28, 2003

London, England ( — A British researcher says that couple will want to create human embryos specifically to be destroyed for research purposes once they learn of the benefit of embryonic stem cell research or have family members who are enduring debilitating diseases.

Professor Austin Smith, director of the Institute for Stem Cell Research at Edinburgh University, says his pioneering research into new treatments for Parkinson’s disease, diabetes and heart disease is being held back by a shortage of "quality" human embryos.

At the moment, his research depends on spare human embryos left over from fertility treatment, but these are often of "poor quality" as the "best ones" have been selected to create babies.

However, Smith claims that as scientists begin to make progress in the area of embryonic stem cell research that couples will want to create embryos specifically be to killed for use in experimentations.

"It could be argued that the most effective way — rather than taking spare embryos, many of which are poor quality — would be to ask healthy couples to donate embryos purely for research," Smith said.

"If and when we get to that stage, there will need to be some discussion about what society wants. Society would need to debate this first. Society might be quite concerned about this, but if we can show that the donation would be clinically useful, people might change their minds," Smith added.

"A couple might have a relative who suffers from diabetes or Parkinson’s, and could want to donate an embryo for that reason," he explained.

Creating human embryos specifically for their use in research is not permitted in the U.K. currently.

The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, which regulates the use of human embryos in experiments, says the rules wouldn’t change unless scientists could show their research could not be done using spare embryos from fertility treatments.

Smith’s comments didn’t go over very well with one British pro-life leader.

Josephine Quintavalle, director of Comment on Reproductive Ethics, said: "This shows how far we have moved towards viewing embryos as a product to be used in any way we like."

"To talk about creating the best embryos for stem cell research shows that we have lost all understanding of human dignity," Quintavalle concluded.