The Ethical Implications of Research Involving Human Embryos

01-07-2000

Human embryo research is a well established feature of the modern scientific landscape. The technique has recently come to the fore in public policy debates because of new technological advances. Human embryo research now promises to play a pivotal role in the treatment of many chronic illnesses through developments in stem cell technology as well as continuing to offer hope for those who suffer from subfertility. Developments in the field of human stem cell research are, to a large degree, dependent upon human embryo research. There are conflicting pressures and arguments around this subject. On the one hand, there are those who argue that the need for therapies for diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s is such in our ageing population that all avenues for research ought to be explored. These views are supported by those in the healthcare and pharmaceutical industries who have identified the tremendous potential for new treatments – and products. On the other hand there are those who argue that research upon human embryos violates fundamental moral norms and is an affront to the concept of human dignity. These divergent viewpoints are reflected in the existing and pending legislation among the member states of the European Union. Some states, such as the United Kingdom, have adopted a pragmatic and permissive approach to embryo research. Others, notably Austria and Germany, have established strong legal norms which reflect the moral argument that the human embryo has a status equivalent to any human being. Despite this apparently polarised situation there is much common ground to be found in the position of member states. This study examines the possible policy options for human embryo research in Europe. It analyses the existing legal positions among member states and provides a comparative assessment of policies adopted elsewhere, notably in North America. The study explores the ethical arguments relating to the fundamental questions of the moral status of

Human embryo research is a well established feature of the modern scientific landscape. The technique has recently come to the fore in public policy debates because of new technological advances. Human embryo research now promises to play a pivotal role in the treatment of many chronic illnesses through developments in stem cell technology as well as continuing to offer hope for those who suffer from subfertility. Developments in the field of human stem cell research are, to a large degree, dependent upon human embryo research. There are conflicting pressures and arguments around this subject. On the one hand, there are those who argue that the need for therapies for diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s is such in our ageing population that all avenues for research ought to be explored. These views are supported by those in the healthcare and pharmaceutical industries who have identified the tremendous potential for new treatments – and products. On the other hand there are those who argue that research upon human embryos violates fundamental moral norms and is an affront to the concept of human dignity. These divergent viewpoints are reflected in the existing and pending legislation among the member states of the European Union. Some states, such as the United Kingdom, have adopted a pragmatic and permissive approach to embryo research. Others, notably Austria and Germany, have established strong legal norms which reflect the moral argument that the human embryo has a status equivalent to any human being. Despite this apparently polarised situation there is much common ground to be found in the position of member states. This study examines the possible policy options for human embryo research in Europe. It analyses the existing legal positions among member states and provides a comparative assessment of policies adopted elsewhere, notably in North America. The study explores the ethical arguments relating to the fundamental questions of the moral status of