The UK parliament this week is considering a wide-reaching bill on stem-cell research. Under pressure from a number of religious groups, Prime Minister Gordon Brown has allowed MPs to have a ‘free vote’ on certain parts of the bill. There’s no doubt that stem cells are a tricky moral issue – are they to be considered alive, or just a group of cells like a skin transfusion?
Meanwhile, a study of stem cell use has shown that they can make a great deal of impact in reversing the effects and possibly curing Parkinson’s disease. Other degenerative diseases such as Alzheimers are also thought to be potentially cured by treatment with stem cells. The big advantage to this latest scientific discovery is that the mice in the study did not reject the stem cells, a major step forward in the useability of the treatment.
To be sure the issue is a very complex one. Is it better to not play around with cells taken from embryos, even those that would only be disposed of? Is it a can of worms best left alone or are the moral quandaries worth it for the difference that could be made to the many people with diseases stem cells are thought to help? It’s a difficult choice but one we’ll have to face in the coming decades. Scientists are making great advances in the field and sooner or later will produce cures for some diseases. We’ll have to choose whether it’s right to use them or not.