Multidisciplinary perspectives on the donation of stem cells and reproductive tissue

22 June 2016

Since the late 1970s, the capacity of assisted reproductive technologies to reorder the beginnings of life has generated robust, sometimes heated social debate. The new repertoires of in vitro fertilisation (IVF) and oocyte donation abruptly expanded the number of potential participants in the creation of a child and radically redistributed the spaces in which ovulation, conception, pregnancy, and birth took place. They propelled existing understandings of the origins of life, women’s reproductive rights, and the structure of the family into potential disarray and hence demanded systematic social deliberation and new legislative frameworks to manage the fallout. In the late 1990s, the creation of the first human embryonic stem cell line (Thomson et al. 1998) and the first mammalian clone (Campbell et al. 1996) galvanised a similarly robust social response. Abruptly, the entities associated with the beginnings of biographical human life, particularly embryos and oocytes, could be diverted from their developmental pathways and transformed into potential sources of therapeutic tissues for patients suffering degenerative conditions. For many people, such developments were profoundly unsettling, and after protracted debate and consultation, many governments in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) have tried to broker regulatory compromises that facilitate some degree of stem cell research yet give expression to the special status of the embryo and the need for donor protections