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Defining the Ethics of Stem Cell Research


We're going to talk some more this morning about the ethical issues raised by human embryonic stem cell research. We've called Richard Hynes, co-Chair of a National Academy of Sciences committee that developed guidelines for conducting this kind of research.

Good morning.

Dr. RICHARD HYNES (co-Chair, Committee on Guidelines for Human Embryonic Stem Cell Research, National Academy of Sciences): Good morning.

INSKEEP: I know that scientists hope to eventually recruit women to be egg donors for their stem cell research. Are there ethical issues here?

Dr. HYNES: There are some ethical issues in the sense some people believe one shouldn't do this sort of research. And there are ethical issues in terms of making sure that the women are adequately compensated, adequately informed about the risks that they might be taking and that informed consent and all those sorts of things are in place.

INSKEEP: When it comes to the delicate issue of paying women to provide eggs for stem cell research, what did your committee conclude should be the guideline?

Dr. HYNES: We concluded that women should be reimbursed for expenses and we left the exact amount to what's called an institutional review board, which all institutions that do human subject research have to have such a committee. They're used to making decisions about how much people can be reimbursed for any medical contribution that they make to a, lets say, clinical trial.

INSKEEP: Women should be reimbursed for expenses. It sounds like you want to avoid, though, a kind of open market on eggs.

Dr. HYNES: I think we did. I think most people do. It's unseemly to have commercial activity around human reproductive material. In fact, many aspects where people donate organs there's concern about excessive reimbursement for that, as well.

INSKEEP: Mr. Hynes, there's a ban on using federal money for this research, as you know...

Dr. HYNES: Yes.

INSKEEP: ...does that mean there's less federal regulation then there would be if the government was giving money to researchers and also attaching some strings?

Dr. HYNES: Yes, it does. That's why the Academy decided there was some need for guidelines that would be available nationwide. They're not laws, but they're guidelines, and most people are following them.

INSKEEP: And let me ask about one other area, if I can. Joe Palca's report mentioned that the stem cell research in South Korea was found to be fraudulent...

Dr. HYNES: Yes.

INSKEEP: ...has that case made you rethink any of the guidelines in place as other people compete to do the same thing for real?

Dr. HYNES: No, actually it hasn't. We anticipated some of those issues and made recommendations about them. A lot of what he did would have been counter to the guidelines, and somebody who did it here would be probably sanctioned by the institutions. He was sanctioned by his institution. I actually think that whole affair is something of a distraction. It's a bit like saying you shouldn't conduct business because there's an Enron.

INSKEEP: Do you think that bogus researchers in the United States would be caught?

Dr. HYNES: Yes, I think they would. Anybody who does anything important and publishes it, people try and reproduce it. And if they can't, then questions are raised. It doesn't usually last very long if it's important.

INSKEEP: Richard Hynes, co-Chair of a National Academy of Sciences Committee on stem cell guidelines. Also, a professor of Cancer Research at MIT.

Thanks very much.

Dr. HYNES: Thank you.

INSKEEP: And there's a timeline of stem cell research and debate at npr.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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