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Kennedy Institute of Ethics Journal 14.1 (2004) 47-54
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Ethical Guidelines for Human Embryonic Stem Cell Research*
(A Recommended Manuscript)
Adopted on 16 October 2001Revised on 20 August 2002
Ethics Committee of the Chinese National Human Genome Center at Shanghai, Shanghai 201203
Human embryonic stem cell (ES) research is a great project in the frontier of biomedical science for the twenty-first century. Be- cause the research involves the use of human embryos, it triggers serious debate on ethical issues. Opponents consider the embryo to be an early form of human life that should be respected and not destroyed. However, the majority of scientists support embryonic stem cell research, believing that it offers good prospects for the treatment of diseases that have remained incurable until now and so will benefit humankind. The Ethics Committee of the Department of Ethical, Legal, and Social Implications of the Chinese National Human Genome Center at Shanghai seriously discussed the ethical debate initiated by embryonic stem cell research. We concluded that we should support the scientists of our country in actively carrying out human embryonic stem cell research for the noble cause of "medicine being a beneficent art." For the healthy and orderly development of human embryonic stem cell research in our country, we put forward the following recommended Ethical Guidelines for Human Embryonic Stem Cell Research as a reference for leaders, administrative departments, and related scientists.
Human embryonic stem cells are the primitive cells that play the main role in the growth and development of a human body. These [End Page 47] primitive cells have the potential for infinite proliferation, self-renewal, and multi-directional differentiation. If scientists can discover the mechanism of differentiation of human embryonic stem cells, it will be possible to induce differentiation of human embryonic stem cells to form various types of human cells for clinical cell therapy. If human embryonic stem cell research can be integrated with modern biomedical engineering techniques, it also will be possible to make repair and replacement of human tissues and organs a reality.
There are two ways to classify human embryonic stem cells. One way is to classify them according to their potential for differentiation. There could be three kinds of stem cells: totipotent stem cells, pluripotent stem cells, and unipotent stem cells.
A totipotent stem cell has the potential to develop into a whole individual. It can differentiate into the more than 200 cell types in the whole body, construct any tissue or organ of the body, and finally develop into a whole individual. The fertilized egg and the cleavage cells at the very early stage of embryonic development are totipotent stem cells.
A pluripotent stem cell has the potential to differentiate into many cell types derived from the three embryonic layers. However, it has lost the capacity to develop into a complete organism.
A unipotent stem cell is derived from the further differentiation of the pluripotent stem cell. It can differentiate only into one cell type such as a hematopoietic stem cell, neural stem cell, and others.
The other way is to classify human stem cells according to their source. There could be two kinds of human stem cells: embryonic stem cells and tissue stem cells (also called adult stem cells). The former involves experimentation with embryos, which has serious ethical implications. Ethical issues associated with the latter are mainly expressed in the various opinions regarding the allocation of health resources.
Human embryonic stem cells are the group of cells called the blastocyst inner cell mass during the early stage of embryonic development. They are the main source of totipotent stem cells, and hence the focal and hot point in stem cell research. Studies on the clinical application of embryonic stem cells probably will involve use of the somatic cell nucleus transfer (SCNT) technique, which destroys the early human embryo. At present, the ethical and moral debate is very serious in human embryonic stem cell research regarding whether the research will develop...