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Human Embryonic Stem-Cell Research: Science and Ethics

A discovery that could revolutionize medicine raises the question of where to draw the line on human embryonic research

Shirley Wright

Figure 3. Cells of the inner cell massClick to Enlarge Image

Unlike any other type of cell, embryonic stem cells have the capacity to develop into any type of tissue in the body. This potential has ignited interest in the scientific community because the ability to produce replacement tissue such as muscle, bone and nervous tissue would revolutionize medicine. However, this research is extremely controversial because embryonic stem cells are taken from human embryos that could have developed into a person if given the chance. At the moment federal funds cannot be used for research on human embryos, but the National Institutes of Health has recently suggested that it should fund research on human embryonic stem cells. President Clinton has also asked the National Bioethics Advisory Commission to prepare a report on the medical, legal and ethical issues surrounding human embryonic stem cell research, which should appear in the summer of 1999. Shirley Wright reviews the current state of the research and some of the ethical questions involved.

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