Leading scientists tell politicians to stop interfering over ethics of embryo research
Politicians have been warned not to block scientific inquiry into subjects such as stem cells and embryo research just because there is a difference of opinion on the ethics or morality of the work.
An international group of scientists investigating the possible production of artificial sperm and eggs to treat infertile couples said that moral disagreements in society should never be used on their own to stop scientific investigation.
Scientists are working on a number of ways of making stem cells derived from embryos, or ordinary tissue such as skin, and turning them in the laboratory into mature sperm and eggs that could then be used in IVF clinics for fertility treatment.
The Hinxton consortium, which was formed in 2006 to investigate the ethics and legality of stem cells, yesterday issued its recommendations for how research aimed at creating artificial gametes – sperm and eggs – should proceed.
"Societies have the authority to regulate science, and scientists have a responsibility to obey the law. However, policy-makers should refrain from interfering with scientific inquiry unless there is a substantial justification for doing so that reaches beyond disagreements based solely on divergent moral convictions," the consortium said.
Professor John Harris, a bioethicist at Manchester University who is part of the consortium, said that while the development of artificial sperm or eggs to treat infertile couples was still a long way off, it is important the work is not blocked from the start.
"At this stage the real ethical issue is to ensure that the science can continue ... Is society ready for it? We don't know that, and of course if it isn't, then it won't happen, but there is probably some considerable time in which this could be discussed," Professor Harris said.
"Any tool can have applications that people can object to, from kitchen knives to anything else."
The Human Tissues and Embryo Bill currently making its way through Parliament would allow research into human artificial gametes but further changes to the law would be needed to allow doctors to use such sperm and eggs on patients.
Debra Mathews, of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, another member of the Hinxton group, said that many people desperate to have their own biological children stand to benefit from ways of making artificial sperm and eggs in the test tube.
"For example, if you are someone who's been through cancer treatment and as a result no longer has sperm, eggs or gonads at all, this would be a way for you to have genetically related children," Dr Mathews said.
One possible way of making sperm and eggs would be to engineer them from skin cells, which raises the possibility that women could make sperm and men could make eggs, so that same-sex couples could have their own genetically related children. However, Professor Robin Lovell-Badge of the National Institute for Medical Research, said there may be insuperable barriers to the possibility of one sex making both types of gametes.
"The group thought it was going to be very difficult to get eggs from an XY [male] chromosome individual and that it would be even more difficult, if not impossible, to get sperm from an XX [female] chromosome person," Professor Lovell-Badge said.
Nevertheless, he said that the possibility of same-sex parents one day having their own genetically related children together could not be ruled out. "It's theoretically possible, but you have problems. As a scientist we should never say something is completely impossible," he said.
David Cameron stung by jellyfish: PM hurt after ignoring advice of locals while on holiday
South Korea ferry: Vice principal rescued from sinking ship found hanged
Oscar Pistorius trial: The case against Oscar Pistorius – and why the prosecution claims his story doesn't add up
Peaches Geldof funeral: Private ceremony to be held at same place as her mother Paula Yates on Easter Monday
Shropshire criminals ‘using unmanned drones and infrared cameras to find illegal cannabis farms’ – and then steal from the growers
The food poverty scandal that shames Britain: Nearly 1m people rely on handouts to eat – and benefit reforms may be to blame
US Navy christens huge $3 billion destroyer ship USS Zumwalt that appears as a fishing boat on enemy radar
Scottish independence: It is the English who should be on their knees, begging the Scots to vote ‘No’
Nigel Farage fatigue? Half of voters ‘immune’ to Ukip’s appeal
Nigel Farage: I’m taking on the status quo, and the Establishment’s fighting back
Refugee facing deportation from Sweden saved by fellow passengers refusing to let plane leave
- 1 Are you turning into your dad? The top ten signs you've embraced dad-ism revealed as survey says 38 is age men turn into their father
- 2 Overheard in Waitrose: documenting the chatter in 'Britain's poshest supermarket'
- 3 Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'
- 4 24 people applied for the 'world's toughest job', here are their interviews
- 5 Grace Dent on TV: Game of Thrones has jumped the shark
£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is a company that specializ...
£153.75 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is an innovative outsourcin...
£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company has been providing on site ...
£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: We've been supplying best of breed peopl...