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Use eggs, not embryos, to derive stem cells

BMJ 2003; 327 doi: (Published 09 October 2003) Cite this as: BMJ 2003;327:872
  1. Daniel R Brison, consultant embryologist (daniel.brison{at},
  2. Brian A Lieberman, consultant gynaecologist
  1. Department of Reproductive Medicine, St Mary's Hospital, Manchester M13 0JH

    EDITOR—The European Commission's ethical guidelines on human stem cell research preclude the creation of embryos specifically for this purpose.1 Although the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990 allows the creation of embryos for research in the United Kingdom, the House of Lords Select committee on stem cell research reported in February 2002 that embryos should not be created unless there is a demonstrable and exceptional need that cannot be met by the use of surplus embryos.2

    We believe that embryos created to treat infertile couples are never truly surplus. In our clinics all normal embryos are used in treatment, cryopreserved for the couple's own future use,3 or donated to another couple, or to research into infertility treatment. Like the European Commission, we are concerned about the ethics of using these embryos for stem cells. We propose an alternative solution.

    Most in vitro fertilisation programmes discard hundreds of healthy human eggs each year because they are immature or do not fertilise with the partner's sperm. If these eggs were fertilised with sperm from a fertile donor, many would form viable embryos that could be used for stem cell derivation.

    Infertility now affects one in six of the population but the success rate of in vitro fertilisation remains low.4 Embryonic stem cells have huge promise and we think that ethically it is far preferable to create embryos specifically for this work from eggs that are currently discarded, rather than ask infertile couples to provide normal embryos that could be used in their own treatment.


    • Competing interests None declared


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