Bioethicists at the University of California San Francisco want scientists to adopt ethical guidelines for embryonic stem cell research now, even though treatment for diseases may be “many years” away. Their article in the journal Stem Cells focuses on obtaining true informed consent from patients who participate in clinical trials.
One important ethical issue revolves around informed consent. Patients need to know that their treatment has been derived from human embryos and that they are unlikely to receive “clinical benefit” from a phase I clinical trial. Another concern is privacy. It will be essential for researchers to keep in touch with patients for many years, in case diseases dormant at the time of donation emerge later on. Since a single embryonic stem cell line could treat hundreds or even thousands of patients, an infected cell could spread a pathogen or disease-causing genetic mutation to many patients.
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