Global Ethics Corner: The Future of Stem Cell Research: Has Science Gone Too Far?

October 15, 2012

October marked a victory for stem cell research, when a pair of stem cell researchers won the coveted 2012 Nobel Prize in Medicine. But a new study released by a group of Japanese scientists is raising questions about the ethical implications of the Nobel laureates’ work.

For the first time in history, scientists have created fertile mammal eggs using stem cells. The scientists used these eggs to breed healthy mice. This achievement is making waves for several reasons. For one, the research team used a new type of stem cell—one that doesn’t rely on embryos, but instead uses regular adult cells drawn from the skin or blood. This means researchers don’t have to destroy embryos to create stem cells. Second, the research proves that scientists can use stem cells not only to repair existing body parts—like brains or kidneys—but actually to create the seeds of life.

Here’s where things get dicey. Once scientists translate this stem cell research beyond mice, they’ll be able to create eggs—and hence, life—along a wide spectrum of different species. This could potentially save endangered species. But it also means future scientists may create human eggs. This would have important implications for female infertility and gender relations, essentially freeing women from their biological clocks. It also means same-sex couples could have children using both partners’ DNA. Most controversially, however, it suggests that parents might be able to predetermine things like skin color and height. This could not only change the way babies are born, but humanity itself.

Has science gone too far? What do you think? How can we manage the benefits of stem cell research, against the potential ethical pitfalls? 

By Marlene Spoerri

For more information see

Rob Stein, "Scientists Create Fertile Eggs From Mouse Stem Cells," WNYC News, October 4, 2012

Dan Cossins, "Mouse Eggs Made with Stem Cells," The Scientist, October 4, 2012

Trudy Ring, "Create a Baby From Stem Cells? Research Suggests Possibility," The Advocate, October 5, 2012


Photo Credits in order of Appearance:
Bryan Jones
arcticpenguin
GE Healthcare
Jean-Etienne Minh-Duy Poirrier
Yorgos Nikas, Wellcome Images
Paul Baker
Dave Campbell [also for picture 14]
John Amis/UGA College of Ag
Bobby Chromik
Esparta Palma
Krystian Schneidewind
Carol Browne
Javier Roche

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