The Ethics Of Human Embryonic Stem Cell Research

885 words - 4 pages

The Ethics of Human Embryonic Stem Cell Research

The Ethics of Human Embryonic Stem Cell Research
By Louis Guenin

As a public service, the ISSCR provides this page to assist readers who wish to inquire into the moral debate concerning embryonic stem cell research.

Introduction: Thinking About EthicsEthics is not a specialized body of knowledge. Ethics is a conversation about questions. In that conversation, everyone has a place. We all have moral intuitions. Concerning embryonic stem cell research, the question that we face takes a familiar form: does the end justify the means? In some moral situations, one or more of us might answer that question in the affirmative. For example, someone might conclude that the end of teaching lifelong lessons to a child justifies imposing discipline as a means. In other situations, it may seem that the end does not justify the means. Most of us would not approve of robbing a bank as a means to the end of helping the poor.

Moral Treatment of EmbryosIn the case of embryonic stem cell research, the end that scientists hope to achieve is the relief of human suffering. That this is a humanitarian and worthy end is not in dispute. The controversy is about the means, namely, the consumption of donated embryos. More particularly, embryonic stem cell research and therapy would use donated embryos that, by virtue of donor instructions, will never enter a uterus. Is it permissible to use those means to that end? Ancient religious texts provide little guidance. The ancients did not understand embryology, did not imagine that scientists might create and nurture what we now understand as embryos in the laboratory. Nor can we get an answer from laboratory experiments. There is no test for whether an embryo is a person. Instead we are left to our own devices, to our own moral reasoning.

Humanitarian Hopes Powerful motivation for setting our minds to this task comes from the vision of scientists about what regenerative medicine might accomplish with stem cells derived from embryos. Shortly after the discovery in 1998 of ways to nurture embryonic stem cells in the laboratory, the Director of the National Institutes of Health, Harold Varmus, M. D., described the promise of this frontier in testimony before Congress. The embryonic stem cells of which Dr. Varmus spoke differ from the stem cells of developed humans (the latter often called "adult" stem cells). Embryonic stem cells possess the...

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