Sept. 29, 2000 -- Few medical or scientific issues have stirred up more controversy in recent years than the idea of using cells and tissue from human embryos in medical research. Many scientists believe that cloning stem cells from such embryos holds great promise as a way to develop treatments -- and possibly cures -- for a variety of diseases and injuries, including Alzheimer's disease, spinal cord injuries, and organ damage. What gives this kind of research such endless potential, advocates argue, is the unique ability of stem cells to develop into all the different tissue types making up the various organs of the body.
But research using human embryos has also drawn fire. Some people consider it tantamount to creating human life with the intention of killing it. Others fear this medical research will inevitably lead to the actual cloning of human beings.
In late August, the National Institutes of Health recommended a compromise: The U.S. government agreed to fund research using stem cells taken from human embryos that would otherwise be discarded, such as excess embryos created during fertility treatments, including in vitro fertilization. This controversial decision came just one week after Great Britain's chief medical officer -- with the support of Prime Minister Tony Blair -- recommended that Parliament go one step farther and allow its scientists to actually clone human embryos for medical research.
What are the benefits of stem cell research and embryo cloning? What are the drawbacks? And what is the price? WebMD asked two leading experts to talk about the pros and cons of this research -- morally, ethically, medically, and scientifically.
The Lifesaving Promise of Cloning Technology
By Gregory Pence, PhD
Sept. 29, 2000 -- What exactly is embryonic stem cell research, and why is it such an important advance in medicine? Think, for a moment, about actor Michael J. Fox, who has Parkinson's disease, or former President Ronald Reagan, who has Alzheimer's disease. Both of these conditions are associated with damage to cells that don't repair themselves, and both have no known cure or even a treatment that's effective in the long term.
Cloning and Stem Cell Research: Too High a Price
By Edmund Pellegrino, MD
Sept. 29, 2000 -- Over the past two months, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the government of Great Britain have, with two sweeping decisions, set the human race on the path to a deeply troubling future: One where discarded human embryos are used, like so many spare parts, to devise medical treatments using their stem cells. Or where embryos are created for the sole purpose of being destroyed in order to develop stem cells that match a certain person's genetic makeup.