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Unformatted text preview: Human embryonic stem cell research and the discarded embryo argument Mark Moller Published online: 8 March 2009 Ó Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009 Abstract Many who believe that human embryos have moral status are convinced that their use in human embryonic stem cell (hESC) research can be morally jus- tified as long as they are discarded embryos left over from fertility treatments. This is one reason why this view about discarded embryos has played such a prominent role in the debate over publicly funding hESC research in the United States and other countries. Many believe that this view offers the best chance of a compromise between the different sides in this debate. This paper focuses on what seems to be the most plausible argument for this view about discarded embryos. It shows that this argument is unsound regardless of how one understands the claim that embryos have moral status. It also discusses the implications of this conclusion for attempts to use this argument as a basis for public policy. Keywords Stem cells Á Embryos Á Moral status Á Symbolic theory Á In vitro fertilization Á Public policy Many people believe that human embryos have the moral status necessary to make their use in human embryonic stem cell (hESC) research morally problematic. Since harvesting embryonic stem cells requires destroying embryos, these people are inclined to take the position that using human embryos for hESC research fails to respect them in a way that is consistent with this moral status. This, in turn, often leads them to oppose attempts to publicly fund this research. However, one view has emerged from the ethical debate over hESC research that has persuaded many of those who think embryos have moral status to support this research in spite of the fact that it destroys embryos. This view holds that destroying embryos for the purposes of hESC research is morally permissible as long as they M. Moller ( & ) Philosophy Department, Denison University, Granville, OH 43023, USA e-mail: [email protected] 123 Theor Med Bioeth (2009) 30:131–145 DOI 10.1007/s11017-009-9100-x are ‘‘discarded’’ embryos left over from fertility treatments. The reason that so many who would otherwise oppose hESC research find this view persuasive is that these discarded embryos will be destroyed regardless of whether they will be used for the research. As they see it, using them for research that has significant therapeutic potential is the morally preferable option. The persuasiveness of this view about discarded embryos helps to explain why it has played such a central role in the debate over publicly funding hESC research in the United States. Those trying to establish a public policy for funding this research consistently return to this view to build support for their recommendations. In 1999, for instance, President Clinton’s National Bioethics Advisory Commission recom- mended a policy that limited federal funding to research done with discarded embryos [...
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- Fall '10
- Embryonic stem cell, human embryos