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Much of the work scientists are doing on stem cells raises ethical questions. This is particularly true where they are using embryonic tissue as a source of stem cells and when they are ‘cloning’ an individual to produce a source of tissue matched embryonic cells.
The embryonic tissue used to provide embryonic stem cells has to come from somewhere. In the case of the original researchers, Thomson’s team used spare embryos from couples having fertility treatment, embryos which the couples concerned had willingly donated. Gearhart used primordial germ cells from foetuses which had been medically aborted as a source of his stem cells.
There have been some very powerful reactions to this new area of biotechnology, with some people strongly in support of the work and finding no major ethical problems, whilst others are equally strongly opposed to the research on ethical, moral and religious grounds.
Embryonic stem cell research is going ahead in many laboratories around the world, but in some countries, including the USA, ethical concerns are holding up public funding. Is it right or wrong to allow stem cell research? Should we prevent research and so withhold the potential benefits from people? Who decides?
Imagine that a new law is proposed in the UK, banning all work on embryonic stem cells. A parliamentary Select Committee is called to hear evidence and decide whether or not the government should to press ahead with plans for legislation, or whether the idea should be dropped.
In the activity described here, 6 people take the roles of individuals with direct knowledge of various aspects of the debate about stem cells. They make brief (3 minutes at most) presentations to the other members of the group, who represent the Select Committee. Committee members may ask questions. The Select Committee must elect a Chair who will control proceedings, and ensure that questions are asked (and answered) fairly.
Before you begin, make sure that you have read the following briefing information:
Then, when roles have been decided, click on the relevant link below to find out what you have to do.