05 February 2007
ByAppeared in BioNews 394
The International Society for Stem Cell Research (ISSCR) has released a set of guidelines for scientists working in this field. The 15-page report drafted by researchers, ethicists and legal experts from fourteen countries is intended to provide guidance for scientists working on stem cells but will not be legally binding. The report calls for a ban on reproductive human cloning but takes a more liberal position on the controversial areas of paying women who donate eggs for research and the creation of human/animal 'chimeras'.
Guidelines were issued by the US National Academy of Sciences (NAS) in 2005 which prohibit the payment of women for egg donation. Jess Reynolds, project director for biotechnology at the Center for Genetics and Society in Oakland, California, said, 'It's unfortunate that the ISSCR is choosing to water down what was becoming a de facto international standard of prohibiting the payment of women for eggs'. George Daley, co-chair of the ISSCR task force that drafted the guidelines, highlighted the difference between paying legitimate expenses and creating an undue financial inducement when women consider donating eggs. 'What you need to focus on is not the amount of money changing hands, but rather how the financial consideration is affecting the decision the woman goes through. If it would make [the potential donor] trivialise any of the risks then it constitutes an undue inducement'. The guidelines call for explicit consent from anyone donating cells for research.
The committee said that the new rules were intended to embrace the 'core values' of the NAS guidance of 2005. The guidelines allow for the possible creation of chimeras - a mixture of animal and human cells - as long as the plans are strictly considered and approved by a local review board. 'You need to figure out a way to write guidelines that maintain flexibility so the science can evolve,' argues Daley. The UK's Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) is currently considering whether or not to allow British scientists to proceed with using animal eggs to create human embryonic stem cells for research.
Critics of stem cell research were scathing about the new guidelines. Richard Doerflinger of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops said, 'This is worthless as an ethical guide because it is issued by scientists and entrepreneurs who have dedicated their careers to destructive human cloning and human embryo research and who will profit from the expansion of these abuses. It is a recipe guide for how to prepare the chicken, written by the foxes'. The new guidelines are published in the journal Science and online.