Given what we now know about embryonic stem cell research and somatic cell nuclear transfer procedures, we need to understand the ethical implications. As stated earlier, basically, there are two opposing arguments.

For those believing that human life begins at conception, stem cell research and therapeutic cloning are unacceptable:
  • It is unseemly to create human life in any form only to destroy it.
  • There is a slippery slope argument that this will lead to scavenging of organs from adults.

The opposing perspective posits that if medical research can increase chances of survival, this research could help many in need and actually enhance respect for human life.

Unfortunately, there is no common ground between these two arguments.


When does a fetus gain moral status?

Questions like this are related to one's religious or theological perspective. The question of when does a developing embryo or fetus have moral status varies among religious groups.

  • For some, ensoulment occurs at conception.
  • For others, until day 14, there is no identity. After day 14, twins can no longer form. Most researchers respect this date and will not proceed with embryo research after day 14.
  • In Orthodox Jewish tradition, personhood requires implantation and a 40 day gestation.
  • In several Islamic traditions, ensoulment occurs at the 120th day.


Is it right to seek human eggs for science?

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Reproduction requires a supply of eggs or oocytes (ova), fertilized normally or through IVF. As well, eggs are needed for research such as in somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT). Where are these eggs going to come from?

A serious ethical question that we need to consider is whether it is ethical to ask women to donate their eggs for research purposes. A number of issues are of concern with egg donation that range from minor to profound, not the least of which are the number of discomforts as well as the physical and psychological risks associated with ovarian stimulation and egg retrieval (harvesting). These risks range from common minor discomforts and symptoms to the risk of death which fortunately is low but still must be considered. Questions about compensating donors and commodification also need to be addressed.

These questions and the donation process will be discussed fully in Supplement 3B - Ethical Considerations of Egg Donation.


Further Ethical and Social Implications of Stem Cell Science


Clearly, stem cell science is fraught with myriad ethical and social dilemmas and conundrums. We have designed this distance-learning on-line course to discuss, in detail, many of the most contentious bioethical issues. You will find these discussions embedded in the Modules and Supplements. So, look forward to learning about:

  • The dilemmas associated with procuring eggs for research purposes raising issues of coercion and commodification of the body.
  • An infamous case of scientific fraud that compromised stem cell lab workers and cast a cloud over stem cell research.
  • The ethics of animal rights and animal welfare in stem cell research; what does it mean to create a chimera where human neural cells are implanted into a mouse brain?
  • Stem cell tourism where desperate people travel to all parts of the globe to gain access to unproven stem cell products and therapies.
  • Why informed consent for clinical stem cell trials may be inadequate.
  • The issues raised with our (lack of) regulations for patenting stem cell technology, and the lack of oversight of research supported by non-federal funding.



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