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Friday, 24 August, 2001, 14:18 GMT 15:18 UK
Is stem cell research immoral?
India's Department of Biotechnology has started medical research using embryonic stem cells.

Stem cells are developing cells which, in embryos, have the potential to grow into any of the body's tissues.

They will be extracted from fresh human embryos from test-tube baby clinics and legally aborted foetuses which would otherwise be destroyed.

Pioneers and supporters of this practice hope that it will result initially in better treatments for people who suffer from blindness, degenerative diseases and certain brain disorders.

But opponents of the research believe that it is morally unacceptable and an insult to human life at its most vulnerable stage.

So should this practice continue unchecked? And who will stem cell research benefit most - the pharmaceutical industry or genuine sufferers of conditions that may be cured? Tell us what you think?

This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.

Your reaction

I think India's research on stem cells is completely a loss to its nation, since it will waste billions of dollars on it, rather then eliminating its increasing poverty rate.
FaRid, USA

There is certainly no harm in research that could save millions of lives

Hely Chavan, USA
The fact that stem cell research gets its primary draw from embryos that would have been destroyed anyway, there is certainly no harm in research that could save millions of lives. Not only is it a sound investment, but it is also morally valid.
Hely Chavan, Indian in the USA

We are not talking about "X-files", are we? Without doing any experiments one cannot predict the outcome. New findings come from optimistic expectations and not from pessimistic fears. No one has achieved anything just by sitting at home. Without trying this and applying it in a model system we will not know the side effects. If we come across side effects, naturally we will work to overcome that.
Kannan, USA

What are people talking about? Good opportunities for India - please - are you even thinking before saying what are you saying? Please take a minute and think about it! Is it ethically or morally correct to do that? Who cares if it's an awesome opportunity? It is wrong and should be restricted in all countries.
Muhammad Shah, USA

India should gear up in the biotechnology research

Bikul Das, Canada
India should gear up in the biotechnology research. However, this does not mean to start at the top. Stem cell research is a highly debatable subject and it requires a lot of infrastructure and industry support. So, Indian scientists should not put their head on the controversial issue of stem cell research. Instead, the research community should first concentrate to build up an up-to-date biotechnology research atmosphere in India.
Bikul Das, Canada

This is only research. Nothing more. We are discussing this only because of the way out of proportion media attention this topic got in the Americas. Bush needed several months to make this simple decision? God help them!
Shailesh, India

Research is research, it will happen one way or another. Even when blessed by governments, illegal research will flourish. The cat is out of the bag. It is better to accept this, move ahead and try to minimise as much illegal research and use as possible by providing many legal opportunities.
Harish Nalinakshan, USA

I think it is one of the greatest opportunities for India to make a big difference to millions of lives. Also any breakthrough in countries like India will help bring down the cost worldwide.
Girish. V. K., USA

India must seize the opportunity and be the leader in biotechnology

Vivek Manchanda, USA/ India
I think the biggest challenge in front of human beings continues to be the fight against disease. HIV threatens to destroy the whole of Africa, the ageing West is grappling with Alzheimer's and other dementia and the newly affluent Asian countries are seeing an epidemic of diabetes and heart disease. India must seize the opportunity and be the leader in biotechnology.
Vivek Manchanda, USA/ India

Working in a similar field I can tell it's a bit too early for India to begin such research with the given expertise and infrastructure. No doubt it has great potential and will eventually be accepted by the common people.
Amit, UK

This practice should definitely continue, but not without check. The comments by Gautam surmise everything. Why is the respect for an individual stem cell greater than that of the rats that have already suffered as a part of the research? And for argument's sake, where were the people who disagree on this issue, when abortion at a certain point was legalised? We should not delay taking certain paths because we do not fully comprehend the consequences of our actions. Economically and ethically, ignorance is not bliss.
Shah, USA

I believe the world has other bigger issues to deal with and spend money on

Arif G, Pakistan
No-one should be doing stem cell research. I believe the world has other bigger issues to deal with and spend money on. Besides the funding for such research will only go to very specific and well connected individuals.
Arif G, Pakistan

I do not think it is immoral. After all it is just a single cell. Stem cell research has great potential in the cure of many diseases.
Neeraj Gopinath, USA

There is no harm in India or for that matter any other country doing research for the betterment of humans. As explained above, the cells are extracted from embryos that are going to be destroyed anyway. In that case they could be used for the benefit of others.
Sankar P, India

Indians are naturally inquisitive and scientific. We must continue to add to humanity's knowledge in the technological fields where we have an intellectual edge.
Rahul Mahajan, India

We are on the threshold of a revolution in biology

Gautam A, USA
We raise and kill animals under unimaginably cruel conditions yet profess our concern for a clump of cells that will either be discarded or stored in perpetuity. It is useless to talk about respect for life unless it is for all forms of life. I agree that India should seize the strategic high ground in this area while the affluent West is still debating its position, as it can afford to. We are on the threshold of a revolution in biology with deep medical, financial, and ethical ramifications. However, the one thing we shouldn't do is stop.
Gautam A, USA

As a person working in biomedical research, I feel that India should emulate China and actively pursue research in the new emerging biotechnologies, i.e. transgenic crops, stem cells and genomics. It has the potential to provide employment and generate wealth that can transform the lives of millions of its citizens, especially in rural areas.
Henry, UK

In my opinion, stem cell research does look attractive to us now when we consider its short-term benefits to mankind. However, we should pause to think what this would lead to in the future. Though stem cells are theoretically believed to have the potential to cure diseases such as Alzheimer's' and others, we should not overlook the crucial fact that such kind of research brings us onto the threshold of producing genetically modified humans.
Nephthys, Singapore

Stem cell research has a great potential for helping and saving millions of lives in the future

Sushrut Vaidya, USA
Any new field of research has faced this criticism in various degrees. Nuclear research is one such example. Humans are afraid of the unknown. But it is not true human spirit to be bogged down by such timid views. Stem cell research has a great potential for helping and saving millions of lives in the future. It should be considered from this broader and long-term perspective and not from a narrow conservative one.
Sushrut Vaidya, USA

India is a have-not. We cannot afford the moral hand wringing of the rich. If we have the opportunity to establish ourselves in a key position in a vital area of research that is going to happen one way or another, with us or without us, we should take it. We do not have the luxury of letting such great opportunities pass us by.
Haru, USA

I think that by using this technology we are playing with a very dangerous natural force. It will alter the balance of life itself and propel all human beings into the quest to create a perfect genetic race. The ends do not justify the means. It is not permissible to terminate one life for the sake of curing another. Quite frankly, the people practising this technology should be ashamed of themselves.
Siddharth Vohra, Australia

Listen now
... to both sides of the debate
See also:

10 Aug 01 | Sci/Tech
What are stem cells?
06 Apr 01 | South Asia
Indian firms embrace biotechnology
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