Steering Through Murky Ethical Waters

Is it Ethical to Use Foetal Tissue for the Treatment of PD?

David Kaplan, MSc(HA)
Joint Centre for Bioethics
Faculty of Medicine,
University of Toronto

Surgical transplantation of foetal brain cells has been reported to substantially improve the symptoms associated with Parkinson's Disease. Parkinson's disease, which is characterized by tremors, muscular rigidity, and akinesia, is believed to result from the deterioration of the brain's dopamine producing cells in the substantia nigra (the neural centre for the initiation and control of movement). This disease afflicts 70,000 Canadians, and unfortunately, approximately ten percent of these patients are refractory to conventional medical therapy. Clearly, new methods to control the disease would be of substantial benefit to these patients. In 1995, the Canadian government introduced legislation that would have made it difficult, if not illegal, to conduct research into foetal tissue transplant. Although this Bill died on the parliamentary order desk, there remains the prospect of reintroducing such legislation. The purpose of this article is to examine the murky ethical waters that surround the topic of research and therapy involving foetal tissue. However, I will not attempt to validate the merits of this therapy in this brief analysis.

Obviously, a source of foetal tissue is required, in order to perform foetal tissue transplantation surgery. There are three potential sources for this tissue.