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Ethical Issues in Stem Cell Research

Question & Answer

❶Ethical concerns about SCNT 1.

The ‘potentiality’ problem

A Learning Aid for UK Medical Students
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I know that you believe that human embryos have intrinsic worth. Do you believe that they have the same intrinsic worth as a five-year-old child or a year-old man? The question of intrinsic worth is complicated. The question of when life begins is a biological question, and the answer actually is fairly straightforward: The life of an organism begins at conception. I think that the embryonic stem cell debate is ultimately about the question of human equality.

What it means is that our common humanity is something that we all share. The protection of human life comes first. And to the extent that the debate is about whether it is acceptable to destroy a living human being for the purpose of science — even for the purpose of helping other human beings — I think that in that sense, the embryo is our equal. So in other words, even though you would grieve the death of a year-old man more than a five-day-old embryo, on at least the most basic level you believe that they both have the same right to life.

And right to life derives from human equality. The right to life is, in a way, drawn out of the political vocabulary of the Declaration of Independence.

And so, to my mind, the argument at the heart of the embryonic stem cell debate is the argument about human equality. Recently in The New Republic magazine, Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker wrote that conservative bioethicists like yourself consistently predict the worst when looking at developments in biotechnology. From the beginning of the scientific revolution, science and technology have tried to allow us to manipulate and shape the world around us for the benefit of man.

For the benefit of what? But there are newer scientific developments, such as certain types of human enhancement technologies that raise very complicated questions of how we should judge the ends and the means of technological advancements.

That being said, Pinker has a point, in a larger sense — that judging the risks of new technologies is very difficult. In general, I think we ought to give the benefit of the doubt to our ability to use new technologies. But there are specific instances, which are few but very important, when we do need to be cautious. Obviously there are people of faith on both sides of this debate.

In fact, there are conservatives — traditional social conservatives, such as Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah — who support embryonic stem cell research. But could you explain how the Judeo-Christian and Western moral ethic informs your views on this issue and why you think that God is ultimately on your side?

My approach to this is not religious. That being said, those foundations are not utterly secular, and my understanding of them is not utterly secular.

I think that to believe in human equality you do have to have some sense of a transcendent standard by which to make that judgment. In other words, when we talk about equality, what do we mean? Equal in relation to what? Some people have certainly tried to make a purely secular liberal argument for human equality.

I think that this is really about whether we believe in a liberal society, which comes from a belief in human equality. Why do you think this has happened, and what do you think this trend indicates? One of the major financial problems of health care since World War II has been that major advances in clinical research resulted in ways of controlling diseases rather than curing them.

The elderly and many chronically ill people in the First World now live a life of high quality. But this depends on the long-term administration of drugs to treat a number of conditions including high blood pressure, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis and asthma.

Consequently, the cost of health care in these countries has dramatically increased over the last few decades. Stem cell therapy may indeed lead to cures for many ailments. It is also likely that diabetes will be curable using stem cell treatment. It may also be possible to achieve at least something approaching a cure for cardiovascular diseases by replacing damaged endothelial cells in the blood vessels or the cardiomyocytes in the heart itself. If these promises hold true, stem cell therapy might result in a reduction in the overall cost of healthcare as a number of currently incurable diseases are cured.

It is difficult to tell in advance what type of research will give rise to what type of benefit. The fundamental research from which stem cell technology originated came from studies in developmental biology whose utility could not have been foreseen. Furthermore, current research into the mechanisms of cellular reprogramming and into the growth requirements of different cell lineages will not only advance scientific knowledge, but is also likely to become of widespread value in clinical medicine.

These two preceding arguments are essentially economic. The following are predominantly ethical and should therefore be given greater weight. Ethics is a subject grounded in philosophy and religion. Ethics cannot be determined by polling people and asking them what they think is right or wrong and simply accepting the view of the majority. It does require support from logically and philosophically coherent arguments.

This argument reflects the view that divine creation is perfect and that it is inappropriate to alter it in any way. Such a point of view is particularly difficult to sustain in Western Europe where every acre of land bears the marks of more than years of human activity, and where no primordial wilderness remains.

Ever since Homo sapiens gave up being a hunter and gatherer and took to herding animals and agriculture, he has modified the environment. All major food plants and domestic animals have been extensively modified over millennia. It is therefore impossible to sustain the idea that genetic interventions for food plants, animals and the therapy of human diseases are a categorical break from what has gone on throughout evolution.

The following quotation is from Professor Iain Torrance, Professor of Divinity in Aberdeen personal communication , on the subject of co-creation:. It is an enabling: I suggest that this may give us a charter for some acts in which we do co-operate with God, though it would be rash ever to claim confidently that any specific act were such. I believe we are invited to share in this activity of enabling, which brings the created world closer to perfection.

We never know what perfection is or when we have arrived there. Art is a kind of creation of beauty and may in some sense act as an analogy. I believe we have an authority to intervene, so as to heal and restore, but not to manipulate and destroy. Unfortunately, the idea of a perfect creation was adopted by the early evolutionary biologists who, understandably, were greatly impressed by the elegance of evolutionary adaptation.

They therefore tended to replace a perfect divine creation with a perfect evolutionary adaptation. But when scientists began to study the molecular mechanisms of evolution, it turned out that there are only a limited number of strategies available to achieve adaptation.

It is perfectly clear, for example, that no competent engineer would design a creature walking on two legs as badly adapted to the upright posture as is Man. If Man were really made physically in the image of God, it would be bad news for an immortal God. They have generally failed to understand the nature of the evolutionary process, particularly in believing that natural selection produces an overall, optimal phenotype.

To give a current example, if the HIV pandemic continues unabated it will provide a very strong selective pressure in favour of those few people who lack the receptors—CD4 and CCR5—to which the virus attaches. One can imagine that, in due course, their progeny could become dominant in large parts of the world.

However, there is no reason whatsoever to believe that these survivors would necessarily be particularly intelligent, beautiful, moral or have other survival characteristics. Survival of the fittest—an unfortunate phrase in any case—simply describes those who are fittest to survive under those selective pressures that exist at any one time.

This is an entirely pernicious proposition, which finds few defenders in modern democratic societies. On the other hand, there is a general agreement that there are things which should not be done—in science as in other areas of life.

The intention of stem cell research is to produce treatments for human diseases. It is difficult not to regard this as a worthy end, and more difficult to see that there could be any moral objection to curing the sick, as demanded by the Hippocratic oath.

The essential problem here is to decide at what stage of development a human embryo acquires the interests—and the rights to protect these interests—that characterize a human being, i.

This is a problem that has occupied a great deal of theological and philosophical attention and the arguments have been extensively discussed Dunstan, ; Dunstan and Seller, One principal condition is regarded as sufficient to confer interests and the right to defend them—sentience. In this context, sentience is neither the ability to think—which is in any case very difficult to define—nor is it the ability to feel pain.

Sentience is defined as the ability to form any links with the outside world. Until an organism has a rudimentary central nervous system and some sense receptors—be it for pain, touch, smell, taste, sight or sound—it cannot form any contact with the outside world and therefore is not sentient. It therefore does not seem possible to attribute sentience to a pre-implantation embryo, or indeed even to an implanted embryo until it has developed some form of nervous system and sense organs.

Along the same line, we now universally accept that a human being is dead when no contact with the outside world can be demonstrated by central nervous function. Certainly, death is regarded as having occurred well before every individual cell of the body has died. The medieval church took the view that an embryo acquired a soul, or it became animatus , at the same time that it became formatus , i.

This doctrine was derived from Aristotle who curiously believed males to become formatus at 40 days, whereas females were not so until 80 days of gestation. The medieval church held that the abortion of an embryo that was neither formatus nor animatus was only a fineable offence; and it was only after an embryo had become animatus that abortion became a mortal sin. At the core of the refusal of the Roman Catholic Church to countenance embryo research is a doctrine by Pope Pius IX, who declared in that an embryo acquires full human status at fertilization.

This may have been partly in response to an increased frequency of abortion but it is likely also to have been influenced by a desire to bring Christian doctrine into line with 19 th century embryology. But women lose large numbers of pre-implantation embryos throughout their reproductive life.

These embryos are not mourned, they are not given burial and no one says prayers for them.

I. Introduction

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Watch video · Embryonic stem cells offer hope for new therapies, but their use in research has been hotly debated. Presenting the issues, rationale and key ethical arguments. Embryonic Stem Cell Research: An Ethical Dilemma.

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Home > Stem Cells > Arguments Against Embryonic Stem Cell Research: Arguments Against Embryonic Stem Cell Research 1) Embryos are lives. An embryo is actually a human; it should be valued as highly as a human life.

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Critics against stem cell research argued that the ethical issues of scientific work on aborted fetuses did not justify the possible benefits. "A life is a life and that should never be compromised. A fertilized egg should be valued as . What are the arguments against stem cell research? Stem Cell Research I strongly oppose human cloning, as do most Americans. We recoil at the idea of growing human beings for spare body parts, or creating life for our convenience.

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Sep 05,  · The Case Against Embryonic Stem Cell Research: An Interview with Yuval Levin Scientists largely agree that stem cells may hold a key to the treatment, and even cure, of many serious medical conditions. Aug 09,  · The Cases For and Against Stem Cell Research. The Case Against Stem Cell Research. A number of religious groups support embryonic stem cell research, and many Protestant sects and most.