February 27, 2024


A group of 60 scientists, doctors, philosophers, lawyers, editors and others have put forward a proposal for international guidelines for stem cell research. "Inconsistent and conflicting laws prevent some scientists from engaging in this research and hinder global collaboration," the Hinxton Group complains. The thrust of the declaration is very supportive of cloning for research and embryonic stem cell research. This is described as "an immense promise for good" which will increase knowledge of human biology and which may lead to new treatments for disease and injury.

The group’s steering committee is largely British, and overwhelmingly skewed toward utilitarianism. It includes the controversial ethicists John Harris, of the University of Manchester, and Julian Savulescu, of Oxford University. The committee argues that restrictions on research should be minimal and flexible enough to accommodate rapid change. Scientists should be free to do work abroad which is banned in their own countries. (German scientists, for instance, can be prosecuted for working on projects abroad if these would be illegal in Germany.)

The Hinxton Group began its work before the Korean stem cell scandal. That debacle has now strengthened the hand of opponents of destructive embryo research and research cloning. However, the Group’s 15 principles and strategies may help to establish a united front for its supporters and give stem cell research an ethical foundation.

The guidelines mention, but take no position on, two cutting-edge developments in stem cell research: the creation of human-animal hybrids and of gametes from stem cells.