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Embryos and pseudoembryos: parthenotes, reprogrammed oocytes and headless clones
  1. Helen Watt
  1. Correspondence to:
 Dr H Watt
 Linacre Centre for Healthcare Ethics, 38 Circus Road, London NW8 9SE, UK; h.watt{at}linacre.org

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Recent proposals for creating “pseudoembryos” by different techniques and moral status of such entities

What makes something (or someone) an embryo—as opposed to what is actually, and not just in biotech parlance, a collection of cells? This question has come to the fore in recent years with proposals for producing embryonic (or pseudoembryonic) stem cells for research. While some of those opposed to use of standard embryonic stem cells emphasise that adult (including umbilical) cells have a clinical track record, others argue that there may be further benefits obtainable from cells very like those of embryos, provided such cells can be derived in new ways. Rather than deriving them in ways that kill or otherwise endanger a living human embryo, they could be obtained from an entity that merely resembles a human embryo sufficiently closely for its cells to be of use. Such an entity might be created after introducing genetic changes to an ovum before it is activated by, for example, a cloning-type procedure, such that a gene essential to embryogenesis will be either absent, blocked in its expression, or overexpressed.1,2 The claim is that the ovum could be made to give rise to embryonic stem cells—mere living parts—without ever giving rise to a whole embryo, who is killed to obtain them. Whereas cloning “proper” winds back the specialisation of the cell nucleus to a point where a whole embryo is formed who has not yet specialised its cells, oocyte-assisted reprogramming (OAR), it is claimed, would wind back the specialisation merely to an intermediate point at which no embryo is created. Other methods proposed for deriving pseudoembryonic cells include parthenogenesis, in which an ovum is activated without a sperm, or even the insertion of an adult cell nucleus.1

MORAL STATUS OF THE EMBRYO

In this paper, I assume that a genuine …

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