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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

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More Ethical Questions

Stem Cell Ethics: A Theological Brief
The Promise and Science of Stem Cells
Stem Cells and Cloning
Framework #1: Protecting the Early Embryo
Framework #2: Protecting Human Nature from Brave New World
Framework #3: Medical Benefits
Jewish and Muslim Frameworks
What about Other Sources of Stem Cells?
Souls, Humans, and God
What Should We Do?
Further Reading


Gaymon Bennett, Karen Lebacqz and Ted Peters

See also:
Pain and Suffering
Books on Biology, Genetics and Theology
DNA Double-Helix