Human Embryonic Stem Cell Research (hESCR): How Novel Research Has Impacted on the Current Ethical and Legal Situation
There is great ethical debate regarding the complex area of human embryonic stem cell research (hESCR) because in order to access the cells, destruction of the embryo is required. Therefore many different opinions regarding the moral status of the human embryo have developed. The environment of hESCR is highly politicised and one of the few scientific fields that is prohibited in some jurisdictions. Within the EU there is a diverse legislative environment. In particular there is no specific legislation in Ireland despite both the Commission on Assisted Human Reproduction and the Irish Council for Bioethics calling for such legislation in 2005 and 2008 respectively. As a result scientists have had to develop their own policies and regulations while looking elsewhere for funding. The Irish Medical Council has had to draft guidelines for doctors highlighting the regulatory vacuum. Corporations, non-profit organisations and philanthropists have had to step into the regulatory and funding void created by governments internationally. Despite these restrictions, research in the area of stem cells is rapidly evolving and progressing especially in the past year with use of the CRISPR-Cas9 system in gene editing of human embryos. With the recent advances in human embryo culturing, the 14 day rule originally enacted in the UK's Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act in 1990 is being questioned with discussions for a possible extension past 14 days. There is a moral duty amongst the scientific and medical community to practise ethical research and this is especially true for hESCR but clear legislations and regulatory bodies are required to guide these pioneers of research through this contentious and provocative research.