outkaethicsofhumanstemcellresearch - OUTKA THE ETHICS OF...

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OUTKA • THE ETHICS OF HUMAN STEM CELL RESEARCH [ 175 ] Kennedy Institute of Ethics Journal Vol. 12, No. 2, 175–213 © 2002 by The Johns Hopkins University Press Gene Outka The Ethics of Human Stem Cell Research ABSTRACT. The medical and clinical promise of stem cell research is widely heralded, but moral judgments about it collide. This article takes general stock of such judgments and offers one specific resolution. It canvasses a spectrum of value judgments on sources, complicity, adult stem cells, and public and private contexts. It then examines how debates about abortion and stem cell research converge and diverge. Finally , it proposes to extend the principle of “nothing is lost” to current debates. This extension links historic discussions of the ethics of direct killing with unprecedented possibilities that in vitro fertilization proce- dures yield. A definite normative region to inhabit is located, within a larger range of rival value judgments. The creation of embryos for research purposes only should be resisted, yet research on “excess” embryos is permissible by vir- tue of an appeal to the “nothing is lost” principle. H YPE TEMPTS US ALL. It would be naïve to exempt scientists from sometimes overstating the promise of their research. Early claims about what gene therapy would accomplish, for example, arguably were exaggerated and eroded public confidence. Yet claims about what stem cell research may accomplish belong in a class by themselves. The general public is now convinced that something momentous is occur- ring (for one early, engaging indication, see Easterbrook 1999). Both pro- fessional and popular publications register the excitement scientists evi- dence. This research, it is routinely said, not only will expand signifi- cantly what we know about cellular life, but also will bring dazzling clini- cal benefits. Those who suffer from Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s dis- ease, and the like, are regularly identified as eventual beneficiaries. The cumulative effect is to raise expectations generally to a high pitch. Whether these claims will prove exaggerated awaits research efforts that have only just begun. 1 As a society, we long for such benefits and
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KENNEDY INSTITUTE OF ETHICS JOURNAL • JUNE 2002 [ 176 ] sense a genuinely other-regarding motive among those who make these claims. That is, the prospect that such research will bring concrete benefits to numerous human sufferers motivates scientists to engage in it. At the same time, we recognize that less altruistic considerations—e.g., a search for windfall financial profits—sometimes operate as well. Yet concern about profits figures only marginally in the ethical contro- versies that this research has generated so far. Rather, the controversies show how a single other-regarding motive that accents benefits to human sufferers cannot and should not go unexamined. Even as we praise the motive, we confront a host of complicating questions. May research that
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outkaethicsofhumanstemcellresearch - OUTKA THE ETHICS OF...

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