More Ethical Questions
have identified three moral frameworks within which the public policy positions
are argued: embryo protection, unforeseen consequences, and medical benefits.
In principle, one could argue for or against stem cell research from within any
of these frameworks. For instance, although those who stress benefits will tend
to support stem cell research, some have cautioned that the benefits are still
theoretical and therefore should not count as strongly as others count them. Most
who stress embryo protection will oppose stem cell research, but some have
argued that even within a framework that finds the embryo fully human from
the very beginning, it is possible to argue for stem cell research.
Those whose primary ethical concern is the violation of
something essential to human nature can also disagree about what that
essential quality is: is it preserving the link between biology and
reproduction, or preserving the sense of service to others or of the common
good? Christians who differ on these issues can take different stances on stem
cells even within the same framework. However, it is true that in general in
the current debate the strongest opposition comes from those operating out of
the first two frameworks, and the strongest support from the third. It is
important to note, however, that Christian voices can be heard in all three.
Embryo protection is not the only Christian way of framing the issues at
While they have not been given the same public attention, a
number of additional ethical questions have arisen within the stem cell debate.
First, there are justice questions.
Because genetic research is very expensive and todays investors expect
to reap tomorrows profits, how will costs and expectations affect distribution
of benefits? Will people living in the poorer nations of our world benefit? Or
will only citizens of the wealthier nations gain in health and longevity? What
might be done to make expensive genetic therapies universally available?
justice questions lead to a second concern. What might be the impact of stem
cell research on women? All stem cell and cloning research requires human eggs.
Women have to supply them. Will the hyper ovulation necessary to obtain eggs in
sufficient quantities threaten the health of the younger women who provide
them? Should researchers pay women for eggs? Will such payment provide
opportunities for poorer women to increase their income? Will we end up with a
form of economic exploitation within the research industry? No accusations are
being made here. Rather, ethicists need to pursue such justice questions.
the public discussion to date seems to presume that the source of embryonic
stem cells is spare or unused zygotes previously produced by in vitro fertilization in clinics. It
has tended to ignore the creation of new embryos either through ex vivo fertilization or nuclear
transfer (SCNT). Of the four original stem cell lines of 1998, three used spare
IVF embryos; but one was freshly derived. What this means is that the ethical
discussion must confront directly the question not only of destruction of
embryos but also of their deliberate creation for research purposes.
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| Contributed by: Gaymon Bennett, Karen Lebacqz and