September 2006. "Much ado about nothing" could describe the recent hype and flurry of news reports about an "ethical" way to get stem cells out of a human embryo without harming that embryo. Scientists have proposed pulling off one of the eight cells of an early embryo in order to create stem cells, while allowing the seven remaining cells to continue developing into a baby. On first hearing, the proposal sounds attractive to many. Scientists from a small biotech company called Advanced Cell Technology published a paper in the journal Nature in August, 2006, describing the technique. They implied that they had done the procedure and that the embryos they used for biopsy had survived. Following public scrutiny of their claims, however, it came to light that none of the 16 embryos they operated on actually ended up surviving. Importantly, even if the experiment had worked, and even if all the embryos had survived, the approach would still sputter and stall in ethical terms because young humans would end up being directly subjugated and violated in laboratory settings, in order to mine their desirable cells and parts. The quest for "guilt-free stem cells" is certainly a good one, but the so-called "embryo biopsy" approach to generating embryonic stem cells fails to deliver. More importantly, other new techniques which rely either on de-differentiation or on the use of germ cells offer genuinely novel ways to get stem cells without any ethical objections at all.
The "embryo biopsy" approach fails to deliver because of at least four serious moral objections: