Sunday, April 26, 2009

Cutting-edge Evil

Storm over embryo 'bank' which could be used as a body repair kit

By Beezy Marsh and Jo Macfarlane
Last updated at 11:04 PM on 25th April 2009

Couples could be allowed to store embryos in order to use them to create new body parts or cure diseases.

Government legal and ethical experts are to discuss whether families can ‘bank’ embryos not just for procreation but also for use by doctors to create personalised treatments for parents and their children.

Now, embryos – the first stage of life after an egg has been successfully fertilised – can be stored for up to five years but only for procreation.

But a huge ethical debate is set to erupt as the Government’s fertility watchdog, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), moves closer to endorsing new developments in medical science.

It will debate whether embryos could be stored to harvest important stem cells that have the ability to turn into any tissue type in the body.

'Spare parts': Government legal and ethical experts are to discuss whether families can 'bank' embryos for the creation of personalised treatments for parents and their children
Research on using the cells is still in its infancy, but it is thought that within ten years it could lead to cures for degenerative conditions such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s and some forms of cancer.

The embryos could also be used to grow new organs and bodily ‘spare parts’.

Scientists have already successfully transplanted a windpipe grown from a patient’s own adult stem cells.

However, storing embryonic cells is controversial as they allow the creation of embryos for a purpose other than new life. It means couples could have IVF simply to create a body-repair kit.

A US company is already offering this service, which it has described as an ‘investment’ for the future.

The HFEA will discuss the issue in July – and if it rules in favour of the proposals, they will automatically become policy.

Paul Tully, general secretary of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, said: ‘These proposals widen the scope for abuse of embryos. Commercial companies will inevitably seek to exploit people’s fears about degenerative diseases.

'This is about the commercialisation of human embryos, which is dehumanising.’

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