Sandel, Moral Logic of Stem-Cell Research

Sandel, Moral Logic of Stem-Cell Research - PERSPECTIVE the...

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n engl j med 351;3 www.nejm.org july 15, 2004 207 PERSPECTIVE the stem-cell debate The editors asked two members of the President’s Council on Bioethics to address the following questions: Research on human embryonic stem cells holds great promise for the development of therapies for chronic and debilitating diseases that are currently untreatable. Should the federal government of the United States provide funding for such re- search? If it does not provide such funding but effective stem–cell-based therapies are developed elsewhere, should their use be allowed in the United States? Michael J. Sandel, D.Phil., is the Anne T. and Robert M. Bass Professor of Government at Harvard University. Paul McHugh, M.D., is the Henry Phipps Professor of Psychiatry at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. The opin- ions expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the President’s Council on Bioethics. Their responses follow. Embryo Ethics — The Moral Logic of Stem-Cell Research Michael J. Sandel, D.Phil. At first glance, the case for federal funding of em- bryonic stem-cell research seems too obvious to need defending. Why should the government refuse to support research that holds promise for the treat- ment and cure of devastating conditions such as Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, and spinal cord injury? Critics of stem-cell research offer two main objections: some hold that despite its wor- thy ends, stem-cell research is wrong because it involves the destruction of human embryos; others worry that even if re- search on embryos is not wrong in itself, it will open the way to a slippery slope of dehu- manizing practices, such as embryo farms, cloned babies, the use of fetuses for spare parts, and the commodification of human life. Neither objection is ultimate- ly persuasive, though each rais- es questions that proponents of stem-cell research should take seriously. Consider the first ob- jection. Those who make it begin by arguing, right- ly, that biomedical ethics is not only about ends but also about means; even research that achieves great good is unjustified if it comes at the price of violat- ing fundamental human rights. For example, the ghoulish experiments of Nazi doctors would not be morally justified even if they resulted in discov- eries that alleviated human suffering. Few would dispute the idea that respect for hu- man dignity imposes certain moral constraints on medical research. The question is whether the destruction of human embryos in stem-cell research amounts to the killing of human beings. The “embryo objection” insists that it does. For those who adhere to this view, extracting stem cells from a blastocyst is morally equiva- lent to yanking organs from a baby to save other people’s lives. Some base this conclusion
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This note was uploaded on 12/19/2011 for the course UGS 303 taught by Professor Foster during the Fall '08 term at University of Texas at Austin.

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Sandel, Moral Logic of Stem-Cell Research - PERSPECTIVE the...

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