Unformatted text preview: Stem Cells
Ethical and Policy Considerations
PHI 294 – LC: Bioethics
Fall 2005 1 Ethical Tensions
The debate around the use of embryonic
stem cells hinges on two ethical principles:
one principle tells us we should alleviate
suffering and help people who are
suffering, and another principle tells us we
should respect human life. 2 Ethical Tensions cont.
To tell which principle outweighs the other,
we must address two issues: What are the benefits of using embryonic
stem cells for research purposes?
What is the moral status of embryos, and is it
morally permissible to destroy them? 3 Some Potential Benefits:
Reduce stroke damage
Study genetic diseases
Regenerate heart muscle
Somatic gene therapy for genetic disorders
Generation of replacement tissues and organs
Help with spinal cord injuries
Help with bone disease and bone injuries
4 What are the Alternatives?
Adult stem cells They have not been shown to be pluripotent
They are difficult to isolate and to grow in the
They, however, avoid issues of immunological
incompatibility. Wait until we can discover other types of
therapies that may offer hope
5 What is the moral status of an
Some suggestions as to the moral status
of an embryo: Person
Subjects of moral respect and of harm
The beginning of human life
Organic material with the same moral
standing as other body parts
6 Moral status cont.
Could ideas in developmental biology, as
Robert discussed, show that there are
relevant points of development that mark
changes in an embryo’s moral status?
Is there a morally significant dividing line
in human development? 7 McGee and Caplan
Let us assume that frozen human
embryos are persons.
This does not entail that the embryo has a
right to gestation.
The right to life is considered a negative
Hence, if anything, an embryo has a
negative right against unwarranted
8 McGee and Caplan cont.
For what reasons might an embryo
ethically be destroyed? For the good of the community: as many as
128 million Americans suffer from diseases
that might respond to pluripotent stem cell
therapies 9 McGee and Caplan cont.
What does it mean to destroy an embryo? None of the embryo’s identity is tied up to its
memory, personality, habits, choices, etc.
The only thing unique about an embryo is its
Hence, the sacrifice of an early embryo,
whether it involves a human person or not, is
not the same as the sacrifice of an adult
because the identity of a 100-cell embryo is
contained in its DNA.
10 National Bioethics Advisory
The commission takes a moderate
position on stem cells.
It believes that embryos deserve respect
as forms of human life, but have no right
Embryos have symbolic status. Under the
proper conditions, they have the potential
to become persons, and so they are not
like other types of human tissue.
11 NBAC Recommendations
Federal funding for the use of stem cells
should be limited to two sources:
cadaveric fetal tissue and embryos
remaining after infertility treatments.
Also maintains that: Embryos should not be bought or sold
Embryos should be voluntarily donated 12 Bush’s Policy
On August 9, 2001, President Bush
announces his policy on stem cells, which
overrides the Clinton Administration’s
This halted federal spending on research
for stem cells on new lines.
Federal funds could be used only on
existing stem cell lines.
13 Bush’s Policy cont.
At the time, approximately 78 stem cells
lines were eligible, but out of the 78 lines
approximately 22 lines were adequate for
distribution to researchers.
Prior to Bush’s decision, scientists could
only grow stem cells by using mouse
Hence, all of the available lines are
contaminated with mouse feeder cells.
14 Bush’s Position
Bush’s ban reflects the idea that embryos
deserve full protection because of their
He assumes they have the same moral
status as persons.
The NBAC thinks that such a ban conflicts
with the ethical goals of medicine that
advocate the principle of beneficence.
15 Discussion Questions
Will we fall behind the international race to
develop stem cell therapies if the current
policy is maintained? Does it matter?
Would it be morally permissible for people
opposed to embryonic stem cell research
to later use the therapies developed from
this research even if it is done elsewhere?
Should we engage in therapeutic cloning?
Brainard, Jeffrey. “Stem-Cell Research Moves Forward.” The Chronicle of
Higher Education, October 1, 2004: A22-A24.
Commonwealth of Australia, Department of the Parliamentary Library,
Information and Research Services, "Key Ethical Issues in Embryonic Stem
Cell Research," Current Issues Brief No. 5 2002-03, 2002, <
; (7 October
McGee, Glenn and Arthur L. Caplan. “The Ethics and Politics of Small
Sacrifices in Stem Cell Research. ” In Contemporary Issues in Bioethics, 6th
ed., edited by T. Beauchamp and L. Walters. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth,
Maienschein, Jane. “What’s in a Name: Embryos, Clones, and Stem Cells.”
American Journal of Bioethics 2, no. 1 (2002): 12-19.
National Bioethics Advisory Commission. “Ethical Issues in Human Stem
Cell Research.” In Contemporary Issues in Bioethics, 6th ed., edited by T.
Beauchamp and L. Walters. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, 2003.
Weiss, Rick. “The Power to Divide.” National Geographic, July 2005: 3-27. 17 ...
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