Storing Embryos as a Future “Body-Repair Kit”?

By Susan Brinkmann, OCDS
Staff Writer

A new controversy is brewing in the UK over whether or not couples should be allowed to store embyros for the purpose of using them later to cure diseases or create new body parts for themselves. One U.S. is already offering these services.

According to London’s MailOnline, the UK’s Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority (HFEA) is set to debate whether or not couples should be allowed to create embryos and store them as a sort of “body repair kit” for future use. Even though embryonic stem cells research has produced no known cures or treatments for disease, the possibility that it might do so within ten years is prompting many to think it may be a good idea to plan ahead and store embryos just in case.

At the present time, the UK only allows embryos to be stored for up to five years and only for the purpose of procreation. The new policy would allow indefinite storage of  embryos as well as allow them to be created for a purpose other than to produce new life.

StemLifeLine, a U.S. company, is already offering the service. It announced in 2007 that parents would be permitted to store stem cells from their embryos “as an investment for the future.” These services are offered to couples who have fulfilled their childbearing needs and have “leftover” embryos in storage. “We can help transform these embryos into individual stem cell lines that our clients may one day use to create therapies for themselves and their families,” the website explains.

This service goes a step further than current commercial stem-cell banking initiatives which offer to store cord blood from the umbilicus of newborn babies as a potential source of immunologically identical stem cells, which could be used for future treatment of a particular newborn.

The UK already allows the creation of ‘saviour siblings’ – which involves the creation of babies by IVF that are pre-screened as embryos to be a tissue match for an existing child with a serious condition. This practice is controversial because it often involves the destruction of perfectly healthy embryos simply because they are not “matches.”

The debate on the new concept of storing embryos for future disease treatment is scheduled for July. An HFEA spokesperson said: “Horizon scanning is part of our regulatory role. We look at developing technologies which may impact on the work we do.”

However, Josephine Quintavalle, of the pro-life group, Comment on Reproductive Ethics, said: “It is sadly almost inevitable that embryonic stem cells created from frozen surplus will become the latest must-have healthcare accessory.”

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