Ethical issues in human embryonic stem cell research

In Kristen Renwick Monroe, Ronald B. Miller & Jerome Tobis (eds.), Fundamentals of the Stem Cell Debate: The Scientific, Religious, Ethical & Political Issues. University of California Press (2008)

Philip J. Nickel
Eindhoven University of Technology
As a moral philosopher, the perspective I will take in this chapter is one of argumentation and informed judgment about two main questions: whether individuals should ever choose to conduct human embryonic stem cell research, and whether the law should permit this type of research. I will also touch upon a secondary question, that of whether the government ought to pay for this type of research. I will discuss some of the main arguments at stake, and explain how the ethical conflict over these questions differs from the political conflict over them. I will be guided throughout by the assumption that the unique scientific and clinical promise of human embryonic stem cell research is significant. Those who have doubts about this assumption should consult other chapters in this volume in which the issue is addressed directly. I begin with one of the basic facts relevant to the ethical issue of stem cell research: you and I, along with everybody else we know, developed out of clumps of primordial cells, which happen to be the very same clumps that serve as the source for human embryonic stem cells in the laboratory. Let us call these “source cells” for short, since they can be used in this way. Each individual has developed into whatever she is now out of a one-celled animal, which then became a blastocyst, a multi-celled human embryo. These blastocysts are partly made up of an inner mass of cells, and the body of every adult person has developed out of this inner mass. It is this very same clump from the inner part of the blastocyst that consists of source cells for human embryonic stem 1 cell research. These cells can be extracted and grown into a laboratory specimen of extraordinary interest to scientists. Before discussing the significance of the fact that all humans originate from these source cells, it is useful to begin by asking some perhaps rather simple-minded questions about how any one of us knows this fact to be true in the first place. How do I know that I developed from a single cell, and then a blastocyst? In my own case, the main way I know this is that other people have told me so..
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