Call for moratorium on ‘virgin conception’ research
By Christian Medical Fellowship
Sep 14, 2005, 02:14

The Christian Medical Fellowship has responded to news of the creation of Britain’s first ‘virgin conception’ human embryos by calling on the government to rein in the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) who approved the research.

The Roslin Institute, which also cloned Dolly the sheep, reported the so-called ‘parthenotes’ at a Dublin conference last week. Parthenogenesis involves stimulating a human egg to start dividing like an embryo without the addition of any genetic material from a male sperm cell. The Edinburgh team has so far created six parthenotes to a stage at which they say they hope to mine stem cells. Some researchers have claimed that parthenotes may be a more acceptable source of stem cells than normal or cloned embryos as they contain no DNA from a male parent and are therefore not real embryos.

CMF General Secretary Peter Saunders commented, 'It is true that parthenotes are not produced by fertilisation, but nonetheless they do behave like embryos by dividing and producing stem cells and we know that in some species of insects and reptiles they develop into adults. Parthenogenesis has been observed in many lower animals and in some social insects, like the honeybee and the ant, gives rise to male drones. This suggests that despite having lives that are profoundly defective and abbreviated, human parthenotes should nonetheless be treated with the utmost respect. At the very least they should be given the benefit of the doubt. To create embryos in this way with the intention of cannibalising them for stem cells shows a profound disrespect for human life.’

‘Even from the perspective of those who approve research on human embryos, it seems extremely unlikely that stem cells derived from parthenotes could ever be of any therapeutic value. The same defects that render the human parthenote nonviable would likely render its stem cells non-functional or dangerous if transplanted into a patient. It is therefore disingenuous of the Roslin institute to attempt to justify this sort of research by claiming that it is being done to help provide treatments for people with degenerative diseases like Parkinson’s and diabetes.

It is deeply ironic that this announcement has come so swiftly on the heels of Lord Winston’s presidential address to the British Association's Festival Science in Dublin last Monday, where he deplored the extremist hype coming from sections of the scientific community about the therapeutic properties of embryonic stem cells.

When huge strides are being made in other parts of the world using stem cells derived from ethical sources such as adult bone marrow and umbilical cord this sort of research looks more and more like scientists just playing around.'

The fact that the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) has approved it is further evidence that this un-elected and unaccountable quango has gone far beyond its remit and is increasingly becoming a law unto itself. The government should rein it in and order an embargo on such research until the current review of the working of the HFE Act is complete.

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