Many institutions still are allowed the use of existing human embryonic stem cell lines as it has already been created and does not require further extractions of blastocytes. However, using only existing stem cell lines may still pose problems. One of which is the occurrence of contamination as well as the fact that they cant be safely transported to different labs. Another serious issue would be that over time they may become unsuitable for transplantation into humans for treatment purposes as they may acquire mutations over successive generations of culturing. Many scientific experts hence believe that these limitations threaten the advancement of stem cell technology.
Informed consent and confidentiality
In the case of assisted reproductive technology, the leftover embryos after a successful procedure were usually discarded. Scientists have appealed to women and/or couples to allow them to utilize the leftover embryos in the hope that it contributes towards helpful research and treatments. Besides many labs require storage fees for frozen reserved leftover embryos which the patient may not be willing to pay in the event of a successful procedure. The ethical concerns in this situation are the obtaining of proper consent from the parents/woman, consent from the egg/sperm donors if any as well as confidentiality of all the parties involved. Scientists are also able to remove identifiable markers of the embryos involved in order to maintain confidentiality. these are known as unidentified biological materials. Some IVF practices do include this point in their consent forms regarding the discarding of embryos. The records should be maintained with high security to prevent breached from staff, computer hackers, and through loss or theft of laptop computers. Hence only a minimal number of trained and tested personnel must be provided access to such information
Consent has been a crucial element in research since the implementation of the Nuremberg code especially when it regards human embryos. potential donors of embryos and Members of the public may hold strong and diverse opinions whether embryo research is deemed unacceptable whilst others may only support some forms of research. Hence informed consent about the usage of the embryos may help alleviate these issues in the future. Also, people's emotional and moral significance must also be respected.
Sperm and oocyte donors
Regarding gamete donors, the situation differs. Oocyte donors may be consulted and informed during their multiple visits for stimulations and oocyte retrieval. But in the case of sperm donors, sperm may be obtained from banks wherein although the donor confidentiality and consent are obtained, they may not be informed that their sperm may be involved in stem cell research. Many people also believe that once they have donated heir respective gametes they have ceded their rights. Nevertheless, in order to provide respect to the donors, specific consent for stem cell research from both embryo and gamete donors was recommended by the National Academy of Sciences 2005 Guidelines for Human Embryonic Stem Cell Research.
The donors providing oocytes for research must also be informed not he risks of the procedure and must be provided with a consent form that does not contain any deficiencies. The procedure may cause ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome, bleeding, infection, and complications of anesthesia and the consequences must not be downplayed by the personnel involved for the sake of research. The participants must also be compensated financially for the treatment of their complications and any other costs they may endure during the procedure.
In the case of infertility treatment procedures, the highest quality oocyte obtained must be used for the reproductive needs of the patient before research as it is a known fact that the number of oocytes produced by an individual is limited.
Ethical Concerns about Somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT)
Somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT) has many specific benefits but it also poses many controversies and is the reason why it's considered illegal in many countries. Also, the creation of human SCNT stem cell lines is nearly impossible. Some of the objections are:
- entities created through SCNT are separate from leftover embryos and the creation of such embryos for the sake of research may be considered unethical and a violation of rights by many.
- Use of SCNT derived embryos for human reproduction may lead to adverse consequences due to presence of genetic reprogramming errors, failure in the activation of embryonic genes as they are clones, misexpression of genes by new clones, risk of congenital defects,
- Violation of human dignity and undermining traditional, fundamental moral, religious, and cultural values
- cloned children may be considered as manufactured products and are genetics twins of the single parent.
- Due to these possibilities, many have argued that research using SCNT even if it has other medical benefits should be banned outright.
Fetal tissue stem cell
Aborted fetal tissue can be used to extract pluripotent stem cells which have been used in some labs for the treatment of degenerative diseases. For eg use of neural stem cells from fetal tissue to treat children with neurodegenerative disease. The controversy arises in the process of abortion itself, the acquiring of proper consent as well as the fact that termination of pregnancy should not occur solely for research purposes.
Induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs)
iPSCs generally avoid controversy as they don't utilise egg, sperm or oocyte. Stem cells, in this case, can be derived through relatively noninvasive methods.