• Question: Do you believe that we should use stem cells from aborted foetus?

    Asked by afronath12 to Emma, James, Jayne, Kara, Sharon on 25 Mar 2011 in Categories: .
    • Photo: Emma King

      Emma King answered on 17 Mar 2011:

      Hi afronath12 – I think that’s a very good question because it’s something that a lot of people may have a problem with. Personally I think it’s a good thing provided the person who is having the abortion is willing to donate that tissue. We have a lot of abortions in the UK and I feel that if that tissue can be used to help in research then it is better than it just being discarded.
      I firmly believe that a woman should have the right to have an abortion but I do think that we have too many abortions in this country. Some of these are obviously done because the baby cannot survive or is very badly disabled, or because a women has been raped. But many are done because people have got pregnant by mistake – and I think we should push for better education and more widely available contraception instead.
      What do you think?

    • Photo: Sharon Sneddon

      Sharon Sneddon answered on 17 Mar 2011:

      Dear afronath,

      Yes, I do believe that we should take cells from aborted material. When someone donates any sort of cells or blood or tissues, whether that be from themselves, their embryos or from any unborn foetus they have to give permission, and often have to speak to several people to make sure that they are happy with their decision.

      People who have abortions, have them for a variety of reasons, and often it’s a very difficult decision for them to make, in some cases, agreeing for the foetal cells to be used for research makes them feel slightly better about having the abortion as they feel that they are at going to help research go forward and potentially help other people.

      Sometimes, people decide to have abortions because there is something seriously wrong with the developing foetus, in these cases, it’s really useful to get cells or tissues for research as this can help us work out what went wrong and hopefully help prevent it happening again.

      As part of my PhD, I was able to use material from abortions in order to study why testicular cancer develops. Although it is sad that an abortion has happened, it’s really humbling that someone has made the hard decision to let us research.
      What do you think?

    • Photo: Jayne Charnock

      Jayne Charnock answered on 24 Mar 2011:

      Thats a very tough question and I havent made my mind up on this yet. There are a number of labs where i work that do this, they get consent from the woman having the termination and then collect the sample to study the development of different organs and their stem cells. its a really emotive subject and im not sure i would be comfortable doing it myself, but i do understand how important their research is in developing new treatments and medicines in the future. I do think it is good though that something good can come of very sad. We should also feel very priveledged to be donated this tissue to use. i used to work on placentas from terminations rather than the fetus itself, and we always did our best to use as much of the tissue as possible in respect of the source of it.

    • Photo: James Chan

      James Chan answered on 25 Mar 2011:

      Hi Afrontah12, your question is at the centre of a massive debate. I myself work with adult stem cells, which do not have the potential to become a fully formed human being, so my research avoids all these kinds of difficult issues. However, it is important that we understand the 2 sides of the debate.
      Embryos represent POTENTIAL human beings, but have not, to me, acquired a fully human status yet. The reason is they have not developed consciousness or the ability to feel any pain, the ability of reason and make choices – these are things that make humans humans. So for me, if there are embryos that are going to expire anyway by natural means, for example, surplus IVF embryos or aborted foetus, then I think it’s ok to use them for research because of the tremendous amount of benefit this can bring to alleviate suffering of people, who at the moment, have conditions that are incurable.