Ethical and legal controversies in cloning for biomedical research - a South African perspective
Therapeutic embryonic stem cell research raises a number of ethical and legal issues. The promised benefits are new and important knowledge of human embryological development, gene action, and the production of transplantable tissue and organs that could be effective in reversing or curing currently irreversible disease processes. However, this research involves the deliberate production, use, and ultimate destruction of cloned embryos, hence re-awakening the debate on the moral status of the embryo. Other moral anxieties include the possibility that women (as donors of ova) would be exploited, that this research would land on the slippery slope of reproductive cloning, and that promises made too early could lead to false hope among sick patients. It also raises the question of intellectual and actual property rights in human cell lines and the techniques by which they are produced. Review of legal systems internationally reveals that there is no global consensus on therapeutic embryonic stem cell research. Legal considerations are very much influenced by ethical deliberations on the moral status of the embryo. The South African parliament is promulgating legislation permitting therapeutic cloning, thereby demonstrating a commitment by the state to act in the best interests of patients and of regenerative medicine.