Posted below are various articles on embryonic stem cell research. We have attempted to present a logical overview of the arguments made in opposition to this research. We have provided synopses below the direct links to each source to both facilitate quicker understanding of the points being made as well as to clearly delineate the flow of logic we've constructed. Some sources discuss additional information to that provided in their synopses; however, each article was chosen for a particular purpose and only that information deemed relevant to our general overview of the opposition was included.
Viewing Embryonic Cell Research from Beneficence and Justice Perspective
“Beneficence” in the Belmont Report is understood as “acts of kindness and charity”, calls for biomedical researchers putting patients’ dignity and well-being in the forefront. Principle of justice is an extension on the basis of beneficence principle which restricts researchers that “must never enlist subjects in an experiment if those subjects do not stand to reap any benefits.” Another document, the Belmont report, advocates the principle of informed consent. It requires physicians and biomedical researchers at first carefully explain to and receive written consent from the human subjects which enroll into a clinical research trial.
How can these ethnical concepts be relevant to the issue of embryonic stem (ES) cell research? The requirement for informed consent and patient advocates they established is in fact relevant to fetal and ES cell research. Since opponents always argue that neither the embryo nor the fetus is recognized as a person in the legal sense, thus there is no obligation for ES cell researchers to abide by those reports. Even if, however there is absence of legal status, ethical policy will not be precluded. The book stated the evidence that “abortion in North America and Europe is only permissible up to the fifth month and not beyond, even though the fetus does not attain the legal status of a person until after birth.” In this matter of fact, therapeutic cloning and ES cell research maintain that “a human embryo or fetus which is incapable of giving informed consent should be afforded the benefit of an advocate."
"[T]he biological identity of a new human individual is already constituted" when "two gametes have fused" to form a "zygote." Human life is a continuum that begins at conception and the entity that develops should be respected as a person at all stages of development. Thus, embryos should be treated as ends themselves rather than as means to other ends. In response to arguments that the early embryo's capacity for spontaneous "twinning" (usually within the first 14 days of development) is evidence that it has not undergone individuation and should thus not be granted full "personhood" status, it should be noted that this capability is established early and that the overwhelming majority of embryos do not have this potential.
Two major thoughts in moral philosophy are discussed in this article. First, the consequentialist approach in which the rightness or wrongness of an action depends on its outcome. An action is ethical if it produces greater benefit than harm, in this case, destroying a human embryo to potentially cure others from diseases. But the main focus will be on the deontological approach which is exemplified by Kant's principle of the Categorical Imperative, which says that persons must be treated as ends rather than as means. Which means a person's life cannot be sacrificed to achieve some greater good.
The main argument is when life actually begins. Some deontological commentators believe that blastocysts are persons with full rights of personhood and that it begins at the moment of conception, when the egg is fertilized by the sperm, either naturally or through in vitro fertilization. They argue that life has intrinsic dignity and should be respected. Other deontological commentators believe that blastocysts are not persons with rights of personhood, but just a collection of undifferentiated mammalian cells. They believe that personhood begins at a later stage development, which is around the 14th day after initial cell division. If we cannot identify a clear development line for personhood, a slippery slope could be inevitable. People will begin to argue that if we can injure or destroy blastocysts for research purposes, why not fetuses or children, since they are not fully-developed persons.
Several concerns are brought up related to egg harvesting for research purposes. Ovarian stimulation requires the use of powerful hormones and other drugs to manipulate a woman’s body into producing many eggs at a time rather than the normal one or two. The mature eggs are then collected surgically for use in research. Very little action is being taken to alert women in regards to the short and long term effects she might experience by harvesting her eggs, such as increase risk of ovarian cancer. Exposing women to these health risks is morally and ethically unacceptable. Other concerns include: Conflicts of interest, when the clinician and researcher are the same person, as is often the case, women are left vulnerable to pressures to provide eggs, especially when payment of any kind is involved and threfore can weaken the physician-patient relationship. Also, collecting eggs for embryo cloning research in hope to achieve a medical breakthrough has been an international race for dominance, a virtual biotech gold rush. Misleading language, which tends to use the inaccurate term ‘therapeutic’ cloning rather than ‘research’ cloning and thus further cloud the reality. Many potential research participants, as well as the broader public, now wrongly believe that therapies are likely to result in the near future and thus see providing eggs as a way to help others. Exploiting young women, countless eggs would be needed if embryonic stem cells were proven useful in medical treatments. Women in less developed countries and female students attempting to cope with rising tuition costs by selling their eggs are not making autonomous choices.
This article is a response to a paper suggesting an alternative to obtaining embryonic stem cells. The procedure called Altered Nuclear Transfer was discovered in mice and hypothetically could work for human cells. Altered Nuclear Transfer is a procedure in which embryos carrying a defect or mutation in the Cdx2 gene which ultimately will cause death at the blastocyst stage are still able to create viable embryonic stem cells. The Cdx2 mutation would be introduced into a human cell that would then be used as a nuclear donor to obtain embryonic stem cells by nuclear transfer. The fact that these mutated embryos would not be capable of producing human growth suggests that there should be no controversy in deriving the embryonic stem cells. The author disagrees with this theory for numerous reasons.
First of all, the author presents the fact that these experiments were only tested on mice. It has not been proven that human embryos with a similar deficiency would not be able to produce a human being or that they could produce embryonic stem cells. The lack of credible work on human subjects presents an area in which there is little knowledge and much complexity. In regards to being less ethically controversial than other methods of producing embryonic stem cells, the author disagrees. The author believes that scientists are assuming that it is acceptable to destroy an embryo carrying the Cdx2 mutation because of its inability to produce a human being, but not an identical embryo save for the mutation . The author argues that until the stage of expected death the embryo is normal and the mutation doesn’t make the embryo any less human until that stage. The argument about when does an embryo obtain status of human life relates directly. If we are to believe that human life begins at conception then it follows that the embryo carrying the mutation is no less human than an embryo without.
In response to the argument that embryos are necessary and legitimate sacrifices in light of the great potential behind embryonic stem cell research (i.e. that "the moral imperative of compassion that compels stem cell research" is sufficient justification for embryo destruction), it should be noted that human beings have multiple moral obligations in addition to the obligation to heal the sick. In fact, contrary to the beliefs of some, the moral obligation to heal the sick does not immediately trump all other moral obligations, such as the duty to stand up for those who are not in a position to stand up for themselves (human embryos). Thus, the duty to heal the sick is relative and is only necessary so long as it does not conflict with other moral duties. Slower progress in research endeavors (as a result of finding alternative approaches to create pluripotent cells that do not involve the destruction of embryos) is the tradeoff for making sure we comply with all moral obligations and do not give any one undue consideration. Suggestions for alternative approaches include but are not limited to the use of adult stem cells, umbilical cord stem cells, and parthenogenesis. Finally, the future success of embryonic stem cell research is not guaranteed but rather it is, at best, unpredictable. Therefore, in light of the argument that healing the sick (which would imply dramatic success in the field of embryonic stem cell research) does not provide sufficient justification for the destruction of embryos, then a gamble at possibly healing the sick certainly does not do so.
This article sets out to discuss the positive arguments for stem cell research, the negatives, and then discusses how the differing viewpoints lead to problems in policy. The paper’s purpose is to tackle the most commonly used argument for each side. In addition, critiques of each argument are given. On the pro stem cell side, the most common argument is that the embryo does not have moral status and therefore killing it is not wrong. A few problems arise from this type of thinking. First, it justifies the nonpainful killing and use of any prepersonal human entity from the fertilized egg to the prepersonal infant. Second, it places no restrictions on the use of biological material from prepersonal human entities that can justify the destruction of these entities, as long as those uses are beneficial. On the against side, the most common argument is that life at any stage is valuable and destroying or ending life is always morally wrong. One problem with this viewpoint is, how does abortion or IVF differ from stem cell research? If destroying an embryo is so bad, then why do we allow abortions or the ability to create supernumerary used in IVF? Lastly, policy issues are mentioned in this article. Too many times, the full implications of the views are not explored in the public domain; and if opponents point them out they are often dismissed as irrelevant. This type of cycle only leads to a dishonest public debate and one in which sound policy cannot be grounded in.
-Personhood begins at conception, which is when the biological identity of a new human is constituted.
-"Twinning" is an anomally that occurs rarely rather than a general embryo capacity up until the 14th day of development and therefore does not justify the delaying of declaring personhood status until after 14 days of development.
-Embryonic stem cell research would require the donation of many eggs and egg harvesting is a risky procedure for those women who take part in it.
-The potential for major medical advances does not justify the immediate use of embryonic stem cells for research purposes because our moral obligation to heal the sick is not superior to other moral obligations such as looking out for the disadvantaged and oppressed (powerless) in society.
-Research should focus on finding alternative methods to produce stem cell-like cells (adult stem cells, induced pluripotent stem cells, etc.).
-Altered Nuclear Transfer does not represent a suitable and morally acceptable alternative to embryonic stem cells because the altered embryo is still a person up until the point at which it fails to continue development.