Ethics of Stem Cell Research

Ethics of Stem Cell Research

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Ethics of Stem Cell Research

The present time is known as the information age because of the immense level of information available to the mass through information technology advancement and its big impact on human lives. Medical research has made significant strides with the discovery of treatment procedures and interventions that effect potent outcomes in human health. The identification, separation, and culturing of embryonic stem cells serve as one of the century’s most outstanding discoveries in the field of bio-medicine. The unique properties of stem cells and specifically their ability to replicate and self-renew infinitely in addition to differentiating into any tissue cell form the basis of their potent nature and significance in humanity. Successful research in the field offers hope for the effective treatment of fatal and debilitating conditions. However, despite the potent nature of stem cell research, the field raises a variety of ethical concerns revolving around the value of life.

The underlying ethical issue concerns the destructive use of embryonic stem cells . Such research creates an ethical dilemma where at one side lies the moral principle of alleviating or preventing suffering and on the other the need to uphold respect and value for human life. Deontological ethics holds that an action is right or wrong depending on whether the action concerned is in accordance with the established rules or duties. People in the field of medical research has the duty to conduct investigations in the attempt to discover ways to enhance and prolong life (Humber, & Almeder, 2010). Therefore, medical researchers have the moral obligation to advance stem cell research with the hope of discovering treatments for health conditions that incapacitate their victims or even cause death. On the other hand, stem cell research normally involves harvesting human embryonic stem cells, which violates the ethical principle of value for human  life. What results is an ethical dilemma where observing one principle results in the violation of the other. One of the premises supporting the argument against stem cell research is that human embryos are human beings. According to the premise, life begins at conception and hence human embryos are whole living beings only that they are not fully developed. The epigenetic primordia in the embryos cause self-directed growth towards a fully grown individual while keeping the identity and determinateness unchanged.

Supporters of embryonic stem cell research have to some extent been able to circumvent the ethical challenge associated with the value for human life through the use of the surplus In Vitro Fertilisation (IVF) embryos as a source of embryos for stem cell research. IVF is a fertilization process that involves the extraction of eggs and collection of sperms  and combining them manually in a laboratory dish. The process is normally used to treat genetic conditions, infertility and facilitate conception. Although IVF is highly effective, it normally results in the production of surplus amount of embryos where most end up being discarded since clinics are not allowed or do not have the capacity to store them for an indefinite amount of time. Despite the opportunity presented by using the surplus IVF embryos, the approach has also created a variety of ethical concerns that are connected to the slippery slope argument, the principle of proportionality, and the principle of subsidiarity (Johnson, Williams, & Library of Congress, 2006).

The slippery slope argument holds that the continual use of surplus IVF embryos for stem cell research would imply an acceptance of use and consequently the use of embryos through any means and for any end. However, the slippery slope argument is flawed in that restricting the source of surplus IVF embryos does not necessarily imply that other sources are allowed. Critics of the use of human embryonic stem (hES) cells for scientific research argue that other alternatives should be pursued such as the use of adult stem cells, and human embryonic germ cells. However, scientific research indicates that the proposed alternatives tend to share certain characteristics between them but not all attributes and hence they are not identical. In regards to the principle of proportionality, the argument holds that embryonic cells from IVF are meant to facilitate fertility and hence their use in stem cell research should be proportionate to their original purpose. However, a much critical interpretation of the principle of proportionality would suggest that permitting embryonic research for human reproduction fails to provide a consistent basis for rejecting the use of human embryos in research to discover potential treatments for incapacitating and life threatening health conditions (Forman, 2008).

In conclusion, embryonic stem cell research is a highly controversial topic and its practice creates an ethical dilemma. Its practice lies against the principle of human dignity and value for human life while failing to practice it is a contravention of the  duty to reduce human suffering. However, the use of surplus IVF embryos circumvents the first ethical principle since the surplus IVF embryos are normally discarded. Furthermore, a critical review of the ethical arguments against the use of surplus IVF embryos provides that those arguments are not valid.










Forman, L. (2008). Stem cell research. Edina, MN: ABDO Pub.

Humber, J. M., & Almeder, R. F. (2010). Stem cell research. Totowa, N.J: Humana Press.

Johnson, J. A., Williams, E., & Library of Congress. (2006). Stem cell research. Washington, D.C.: Congressional Research Service, Library of Congress.

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