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Preface

In the face of extraordinary advances in the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of human diseases, devastating illnesses such as heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and diseases of the nervous system, such as Parkinson’s Disease and Alzheimer’s Disease, continue to deprive people of health, independence, and well-being. Research in human developmental biology has led to the discovery of human stem cells (precursor cells that can give rise to multiple tissue types), including embryonic stem (ES) cells, embryonic germ (EG) cells, and adult stem cells. Recently, techniques have been developed for the in vitro culture of stem cells, providing unprecedented opportunities for studying and understanding human embryology. As a result, scientists can now carry out experiments aimed at determining the mechanisms underlying the conversion of a single, undifferentiated cell, the fertilized egg, into the different cells comprising the organs and tissues of the human body. Although it is impossible to predict the outcomes, scientists and the public will gain immense new knowledge in the biology of human development that will likely hold remarkable potential for therapies and cures.

Derivation of ES cells from early human embryos, and EG and fetal stem cells from aborted, fetal tissues raise ethical, legal, religious, and policy questions. Further, the potential uses of stem cells for generating human tissues and, perhaps, organs, is a subject of ongoing public debate.

Taking all the above matters into account, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and the Institute for Civil Society (ICS) decided to undertake a study

in order to propose recommendations for conducting stem cell research. To do so, we assembled a working group with broad expertise and diverse views to advise us and to assist with preparing a report. This study and the recommendations flowing from it were informed by the values of the members of this advisory group, the discussions that took place during a public meeting hosted by AAAS and ICS on August 25, 1999, as well as reports and recommendations of other groups in the United States and elsewhere that have reflected on the issues involved. These values include belief in the promotion of patient welfare and the social good, scientific freedom and responsibility, self-determination, encouragement of civic discourse, public accountability of scientists and research institutions, and respect for diverse religious, philosophical, and secular belief systems.

AAAS and ICS recognize that there are varied social, political, ethical, and religious viewpoints to be considered in discussions about the scientific use of tissue from human embryos and fetuses. Scientists do not presume to know all the answers and ramifications of basic research in human stem cells. Therefore, it is important to promote continued dialogue among all segments of society concerning the implications of stem cell research, and AAAS and ICS are committed to fostering an ongoing educational process that informs such public dialogue.

Email link | Printer-friendly | Feedback | Contributed by: AAAS DoSER and the Institute for Civil Society

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