Stem cells from dead embryos, claims Miodrag Stojkovic

Following fast in the wake of Robert Lanza’s claim that it is possible to obtain stem cells from human embryos in an ethically acceptable way, human cloner Dr Miodrag Stojkovic, formerly of Newcastle University, claims that he too has derived a stem cell line in a way that will not raise ethical concerns.

Lanza claimed that he could derive embryonic stem cell lines from embryos undergoing preimplantation genetic diagnosis, using the cell used for the biopsy and allowing the biopsied embryo to continue living. On investigation it was shown that this was not quite the case and that none of the embryos involved in his experiments had survived.

Stojkovic, who like Lanza is not opposed per se to forms of embryo research, claims that he instead has derived a stem cell line from a dead embryo. That at least is what the title of his piece research report claims, but the text itself describes the embryos involved in his experiments as ‘arrested’ rather than actually dead. And nobody seems to have answered the question as to what exactly is the difference between ‘arrested’ or ‘dead’. Even pro-embryonic researchers like Drs Stephen Minger and Robin Lovell-Badge were quick to point out the difficulties in claiming that an embryo is ‘arrested’. Rather like a patient with cardiac arrest, can the arrested embryo be resuscitated also? Would placing it in the womb where it belongs give it the necessary kick-start?

The procedure was attempted 132 times on so-called ‘arrested’ embryos, a success rate hardly likely to dissuade any of the usual embryo researchers from changing tack. Why bother when you can work with fresh embryos, they will argue? And besides, others have pointed out, the very fact that these embryos ‘arrested’ may indicate that they are not as healthy as they should be, and therefore will be unlikely to give us reliable research results.

Yet again attempts to find compromise solutions, ostensibly to silence the pro-life opposition, lead us nowhere. Embryo experimentation remains as ever an all or nothing debate; there is no middle path. The choice is either life or death for the embryo. We obviously favour the former.

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