A shocking court case against an underground beauty ring who conspired to use stem cells acquired from fetus tissue in cosmetic products has once again brought the ethical implications of the use of human stem cells in the beauty industry under question. 

There’s no denying the fact we live in a society obsessed with youth. While it was once considered a symbol of one’s wisdom and experience to bear a complexion etched with the lines of your life, today’s celebrities appear to be inexplicably reverting closer to their pubescent states with each day that passes.

And while it’s almost too easy to launch into a diatribe over the evils of the mass media and their role in our growing unease with our maturing selves, the fact is, society’s perpetual pursuit of the fountain of eternal youth is what keeps the beauty industry in business. Big business. But at what point in our war against time itself should a line be drawn in the sand?

A heightened focus on the role of human stem cells in skincare and cosmetic products over the past decade has brought this question under the spotlight. More recently, beauty professionals have come under scrutiny for the use of stem cells acquired from donated newborn foreskin tissue, inconspicuously labelled as ‘neonatal fibroblasts’ on skincare product packaging and upmarket facial treatments.

The ethical implications associated with products harnessing the youth-giving properties of human cells have muddied the waters for professionals and consumers alike, but regardless of public stance on the issue, human stem cells are an ingredient now readily available in facial and cosmetic treatments across the globe, including here in Australia.

Now a Hungarian court case against eight individuals who orchestrated a plan to harvest embryonic stem cells from aborted babies and sell them on the black market for use in cosmetics is attracting international outcry and a call from pro-life groups to permanently ban the use of human stem cells in beauty products.

A baby is precious, not a precious commodity. This horrific and inhuman use of a child’s cells and tissues has no place in a civilized society.

Activist group, Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) senior legal counsel Daniel Lipsic, who spoke at the criminal case, urged the court to consider the heinous consequences of the popularisation of ingredients acquired from babies.

“A baby is precious, not a precious commodity. This horrific and inhuman use of a child’s cells and tissues has no place in a civilized society. No one should be allowed to line their wallets with profit gained from creating this kind of black market – one that generates a hideous demand for babies’ bodies.”

But many industry experts are calling Lipsic’s philosophy extremist and an inaccurate reflection of the industry’s stance on the issue.

DNA Renewal founder and past president of the American Academy of Dermatology, Ron Moy says while he feels the use of human stem cells in treatments is already well regulated, products targeting stem cell stimulation are a safer bet than the real thing.

“The industry is already correctly regulating and enforcing the use of embryonic stem cells and the supernatants from neonatal foreskin.  The best way to utilize stem cell is the way we do with our DNA Renewal Regeneration Serum by using human bioengineered factors that stimulate the natural stem cells in the skin.”

Embryonic stem cells are derived from early stage embryos called blastocysts that are five to seven days old. In Australia, blastocysts are donated for research with consent from patients with surplus embryos (such as those who’ve completed fertility treatments), and it’s been legal to use this tissue in stem cell research since 2002, under strict regulatory requirements. To date however, bone marrow transplants using stem cell technology are one of the only scientifically approved stem cell treatments, with research into other realms for their use still considered experimental.

There is, in my scientific opinion, currently no effective method to deliver viable stem cells into human skin via a cream or serum.

And Synergie Skin’s Terri Vinson says she’s not yet convinced of their efficacy.

“Stem cells used in clinical treatments may be part of the future of skincare, but there are many hurdles to overcome. There is, in my scientific opinion, currently no effective method to deliver viable stem cells into human skin via a cream or serum.”

The City Court of Budapest found all eight defendants involved in the black market stem cells case guilty of illegally harvesting embryonic cells for commercial gain, issuing judgments ranging from large monetary fines to prison sentences in correlation with the level of involvement in the crime, a result applauded by ADF international deputy director, Roger Kiska.

“Any baby deserves to be treated with dignity and respect, not as a commodity for commercial gain. We commend the court for ruling strongly against this horrific and inhuman practice and outlawing this kind of hideous black market. A civilized society values the precious lives of children and does not reduce them to commodities in elective cosmetic procedures.”

According to the ADF international brief filed in the case, “the Court of Justice of the European Union ruled that, in the context of European patent law, life begins from the moment of conception” and as such, human embryos can not be used for “industrial or commercial purposes.”

Have your say: Where do you stand on the issue of human stem cells in beauty treatments and cosmetic products? 

 

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