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More Ethical Questions

We 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.This is position taken by Karen Lebacqz, one of the authors of this paper. See her essay listed in the sources below.

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 hand.

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 today’s investors expect to reap tomorrow’s 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?

These 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.

Third, 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.

Email link | Printer-friendly | Feedback | Contributed by: Gaymon Bennett, Karen Lebacqz and Ted Peters

Topic Sets Available

AAAS Report on Stem-Cells

AstroTheology: Religious Reflections on Extraterrestrial Life Forms

Agency: Human, Robotic and Divine
Becoming Human: Brain, Mind, Emergence
Big Bang Cosmology and Theology (GHC)
Cosmic Questions CD-ROM Preview...
Cosmic Questions Interviews

Cosmos and Creator
Creativity, Spirituality and Computing Technologies
CTNS Content Home
Darwin: A Friend to Religion?
Demystifying Information Technology
Divine Action (GHC)
Dreams and Dreaming: Neuroscientific and Religious Visions'
E. Coli at the No Free Lunchroom
Engaging Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence: An Adventure in Astro-Ethics
Evangelical Atheism: a response to Richard Dawkins
Ecology and Christian Theology
Evolution: What Should We Teach Our Children in Our Schools?
Evolution and Providence
Evolution and Creation Survey
Evolution and Theology (GHC)
Evolution, Creation, and Semiotics

The Expelled Controversy
Faith and Reason: An Introduction
Faith in the Future: Religion, Aging, and Healthcare in the 21st Century

Francisco Ayala on Evolution

From Christian Passions to Scientific Emotions
Genetic Engineering and Food

Genetics and Ethics
Genetic Technologies - the Radical Revision of Human Existence and the Natural World

Genomics, Nanotechnology and Robotics
Getting Mind out of Meat
God and Creation: Jewish, Christian, and Muslim Perspectives on Big Bang Cosmology
God, Humanity and the Cosmos: A Textbook in Science and Religion
God the Spirit - and Natural Science
Historical Examples of the Science and Religion Debate (GHC)
History of Creationism
Intelligent Design Coming Clean

Issues for the Millennium: Cloning and Genetic Technologies
Jean Vanier of L'Arche
Nano-Technology and Nano-ethics
Natural Science and Christian Theology - A Select Bibliography
Neuroscience and the Soul
Outlines of the Science and Religion Debate (GHC)

Perspectives on Evolution

Physics and Theology
Quantum Mechanics and Theology (GHC)
Questions that Shape Our Future
Reductionism (GHC)
Reintroducing Teleology Into Science
Science and Suffering

Scientific Perspectives on Divine Action (CTNS/Vatican Series)

Space Exploration and Positive Stewardship

Stem-Cell Debate: Ethical Questions
Stem-Cell Ethics: A Theological Brief

Stem-Cell Questions
Theistic Evolution: A Christian Alternative to Atheism, Creationism, and Intelligent Design...
Theology and Science: Current Issues and Future Directions
Unscientific America: How science illiteracy threatens our future
Will ET End Religion?

Current Stats: topics: >2600, links: >300,000, video: 200 hours.