Unethical Stem Cells?

Some of the 200 or so human embryonic stem cell lines approved for federal funding may have been derived from sperm or eggs of unconsenting donors.

By | February 8, 2013

WIKIMEDIA, NISSIM BENVENISTYSince a July 2009 order from President Barack Obama, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has approved nearly 200 new human embryonic stem cell (hESC) lines for federal funding—a move that was touted as a boon for stem cell research. But according to a review of the newly approved hESC lines, they may not all be up to the NIH’s ethical standards, with some possibly being derived from sperm or egg donors who did not give proper consent for the use of their biological material in research, ScienceInsider reported.

The NIH guidelines that resulted from President Obama’s executive order state that to be approved for federal funding, hESC lines must be derived from embryos left over from fertility treatments and other medical procedures, and donated—with full consent—by couples who created them. But some such embryos were not created by the couples themselves, but by egg and sperm donors, who may not have agreed for their materials to be used in research—an issue the NIH guidelines fail to address. Last year, a survey conducted by Rockefeller University research administrators highlighted this gap, noting that many in vitro fertilization (IVF) clinics don’t inform egg donors of the possibility that their eggs could be used in research.

Tracking down the gamete source for nearly 200 NIH-approved hESC lines, Rockefeller's Amy Wilkerson and Kathaliya Wongsatittham and bioethicist Josephine Johnston of The Hastings Center in Garrison, New York, found 49 lines for which consent could not be confirmed. (Fortunately, these do not include two of the most popular hESC lines, H1 and H9.) They published their results yesterday (February 7) in Cell Stem Cell.

Rockefeller’s hESC ethics committee has stated that it will not approve requests for research involving these questionable cell lines, and Wilkerson said that other university committees should be aware of their results. Furthermore, the onus should be on IVF clinics to get permission for research from the get go—the donation of gametes. “It shouldn't be as hard to get as it is,” Wilkerson told ScienceInsider.

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Avatar of: glennmcgee


Posts: 1

February 8, 2013

Not as a former Scientist columnist or as a bioethicist (I'm recovering from that...) I am unhappy at the notion that there is any kind of defensible claim here of importance, not because I disagree with the premise -- I'm on record in Human Reproduction arguing for revealing donor identity and arguing against critics of the position.  I think that the data point (the only relevant one) that shows that nobody responded to the query as to whether they know about the use of these cells (or rather gametes) is a non-finding.  Not just a finding with confounders limitations or other issues.  A NON FINDING.  Show us people do not know, or don't publish.  IMHO.   I can only say as a ten year journal editor in bioethics that this would never have survived peer review and if it is in fact worth creating mass panic and shutting down access to cell lines to "discover" that "with some possibly being derived from sperm or egg donors who did not give proper consent for the use of their biological material in research" then bioethics as an empirical enterprise is in a sad state indeed.  I'd also refer the authors to the countless other studies on both issues of gamete knowledge and on IP and rights regarding cell lines...or to the discussions by AAS and California and England and Isreal and of course to AJOB's special issue regarding the matter.  -- In the spirit of a colleague in this area of research, I hope that more data is to come!

Avatar of: Paul Stein

Paul Stein

Posts: 237

February 8, 2013

We are talking about cells.  Microscopic cells.  Not something that could turn into clones of people.  We're also talking about teeny-tiny things that could save lives.  These things have been extracted oh so long ago that any "ethical" attachment to them is long gone.  Here's the big  question:  why is it unethical to use these if it means ultimately extending life and relieving pain and suffering?  Because there could be potential reimbursement money involved to the original owners that might now totally go to some corporation?  Because the original owners might not wish to do good in the world? Okay, you so-called bioethicists, give me the overwhelming "evil" reasons for not using them toppling over the "good" ones for using them.  Again, we are talking about cells.  Microscopic cells. 

Avatar of: PD


Posts: 18

February 12, 2013

Paul, you are ignoring the basic facts.  These are not just cells.  They come from a human being, yes a human person - a human embryo - which was killed upon harvesting its stem cells.   We should not kill human beings for the supposed betterment of mankind, period.  We were repulsed when we learned about the Nazi experimentation on Jews who "were just going to die anyway."  This example of the use of sacrificing human embryos for research is very similar to what happened in Nazi Germany.  Some people decided that they knew who should die and who should live. 

IVF researchers - you are working with human beings.  Human embryonic stem cell researchers - you are working with products of human beings who were once living and growing and whose lives were purposely ended.  Please look at the morality of your work.  Human lives should be respected at all stages of their lives - in the womb, in the Petri dish.  There truly is a right way and a wrong way to do science.

Avatar of: FJScientist


Posts: 28

February 14, 2013

The pertinent question is who needs to consent for the use of a donor's gametes for any research, let alone ES production. What agreement did the donors sign at the time of sperm or egg donation? If the donors assigned all legal standing to the recipient (be it the specific couple/individuals or the institution receiving the gametes), then the consent of the couple/individual would be sufficient. So, the donor consent form, which likely varies from place to place, is important when evaluating which cell lines could be stricken from the approved list.

Yes, I realize that this is purely a legal interpretation of a contentious societal issue. There will be many who claim that a purely legal analysis neglects the embryo. But society has deemed that it is permissible for the couple/individual who requested the embryos to be made also have the right to determine the disposition of the unused embryos. The question is whether anybody other than that couple/individual, specifically the donor of the egg or sperm, retain legal standing for deciding that disposition. Perhaps the most pertinent legal answer to this question is what case law is established surrounding the donor's rights to prevent an abortion of a fetus. If such cases have been heard previously and have sided against the donor, then the 49 cell lines in question should remain permissible to use.

Avatar of: Alexandru


Posts: 89

February 20, 2013

Ethical Stem Cells exists in every human body but its can be activated only in accordance with Paul description (Hebrew 4.12 and 2 Corinthians 3.3)

Please, carefully read the Bible, according Daniel 12.4, and my research exposed in "Mitochondrial Adam DNA data transmissions theory" - ISBN 978-606-92107-1-0


Abstract: Brain and soul storming - The necessary and sufficient processes to a well function of the human body are meticulous arranged by specific organizational cells, so called process bio-managers, using interconditioned procedures, transmitted through three ways of communication: chemical or “protein channel”, electrical or “ion channel” and mitochondrial or “EMF wireless channel”. The third type is out of the visible and measurable spectrum and raises a new challenge to the scientist. For this type of bio communication we bring a new theoretical hypothesis, based on the managerial multidisciplinary analysis of a cybernetic model proposed by us, by simulating the human body function with the virtual computerized system based on the management of its total knowledge and its perfect quality way of function. The main bricks used for this virtual construction are: the brain, as main bio-processor, and Eve mtDNA and Adam mtDNA, as bio-antennas. This assembly of the total knowledge, build with “brain reasoning, biological feeling, and unlimited soul feeling”, is called by us “main decision triangle, IQ-EQ-CQ”. The main principle of the management of the total knowledge imposes us to not neglect the information produced by man during the time, even if it seems creasy at the beginning (see brainstorming definition). Because in the natural fertilisation the spermatozoids are naturally equipped with the paternal mtDNA (it looks like reflex klystron power amplifier, KPA = a veritable main bio-GPS), we consider that the paternal mitochondria DNA have a very important role in the evolution of the human being life quality and we have developed a new hypothesis, “Adam mtDNA theory”, in addition to “Eve mtDNA theory”.

Keywords: brain, mitochondria, maternal, paternal

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