Monday, January 26, 2009

Embryonic Stell Cell research finallly begins!

This is very good news. Embryonic stem cell research has enormous potential for our most deadly diseases and crippling injuries. Of course some pro-life advocates will regard using such cells as supporting or even committing murder, so it is not without controversy. I respect their concerns and perspective, but being pro-choice, I see the matter differently. I see tremendous hope in this new research:

A note on the ethical issue at stake here: does using Embryonic stem cells in research and/or healing of adult humans, constitute murder? There is no way to answer this question without first doing some metaphysics and asking what a person is, what rights if any non-persons or potential person might have (which in turn requires an analysis of what rights are and how we come to "get" them), and when personhood begins. To be for or against stem cell research is to have a definite position on these matters. And naturally we need to know something about Embryology if we are to know the facts of development.


  1. Matt, I have to disagree with you here. There's no indication that embryonic stem cells are superior to adult stem cells, as far as medical research goes. In fact, everything that can be done with embryonic stem cells should be able to be done with adult stem cells. So why would you rejoice in the government allowing ethically questionable use of embryonic stem cells when it doesn't provide any further advantages?

  2. By the way, that video you included is annoying in that they switch between the use of "stem cell research" and "embryonic stem cell research," giving the impression that there's no difference.

  3. Well, it seems to me that there is a great deal of reasearch to suggest that embryonic stem cell research has vastly superior potential over adult stem cell research. I think there is a good chance that it will yeild many further advantages.

    I do recognize the ethical implications. I understand that those who believe personhood begins at conception must reject embryonic stem cell research. I myself don't share that view, but I'm compelled to respect it.

    So perhaps I ought not t "rejoice". But . . . what makes me hopeful is the promise for diseases like Alzheimers and cancer, that is an ethical issue of great importance too.

  4. I did not realize that about the video. That is a careless use of terms, I agree. Again though, the moral issue depends on when personhood begins. I'm persuaded that pershood begins when the Cerebral cortex reaches full development and the fetus is fully viable which is the 6th or 7th month - the third tri-mester. Given that, I don't think these embrios are persons. But I recognize and respect other views on the matter.

  5. Look, ethical questions about the use of human embryos is a distinct matter from whether a human embryo is a person and its life should therefore be protected by laws. The question is whether and for what purposes we should be cultivating embryos, and what moral responsibility we moral agents have to them. For instance, embryonic stem cells can be used for such things as cosmetic surgery and muscle enhancement. Given the tendency towards vanity, embryos could become a hot commodity on the market; the cultivation of embryos could become a private (or, worse, public) industry. Nicolina and I just saw a local news piece about a family who has a child with Severe Cogenital Muscular Dystrophy (SCMD). The mother had a one in four chance of having another child with SCMD. In order to reduce this risk, they did in vitro fertilization with four eggs and discarded two of the embryos that showed signs of CMD. So the question becomes: was discarding these embryos with CMD morally responsible? Are the embryos with CMD less valuable than those that don't have CMD? And what does that say about the parents regarding how they value their child with SCMD? These issues are far more complicated than just whether embryos are persons or not. Sure, if embryos aren't persons, then discarding them or terminating their development isn't murder. But it still may be immoral and possibly certain practices should be illegal.

  6. What interest me is whether this issue is to be battled out on consequentialist or deontological grounds. I think if carried out on consequentialist grounds, the argument is in favor of embryonic stem-cel research. For I think the potential - indeed likely - benefits far outweigh the negative aspects, since I do no think this is the taking of innocent life.

    Naturally on deontological grounds we may have a rather different conclusion. And that is worth examining, although even there the case is not so clear to me that this research is morally impermissible.

    Your particular choice example is very interesting. Do I think it is murder for those parents to discard the "high-risk" embryos? No. I don't htink embryos are person possesing full rights. On the other hand, I do wonder about the question of moral responsibility. SCMD is very tragic, and that child may have a horrible existence.

    Indeed it may not be disregard for their child suffering from SCMD, but love for and sorrow over that child's horrid misfortune that convinces them that they cannot let another child be born to experience that horror.

    Don't get me wrong, I'm NOT insisting that abortion is right, I'm merely raising another perspective on the matter.

  7. Update: here is the reason for preferring Embryonic stem cell research over adult stem cell research. Embryonic stem cells have the potential to become any of th specialized cells; adult stem cells do not, they are differientiated.

    Now, because Embryonic stem cells have the capacity to become any type of cell, they may very give us the ability to produce any kind of cells that are needed to treat and cure a wide variety of illnesses.

    that I think is the case for it.

  8. What you mentioned used to be a distinct advantage of embryonic stem cells, but this is becoming increasingly less so.

  9. Actually Time Magazine has an article on the issue this month:,8599,1874717,00.html?iid=perma_share

  10. just read the article you linked Nate.

    Of course, if we can create embryonic stem cells from adult ones, than we ought to do that and bypass embryonic stem cell research. But, there is debate about if even that is promising enough. Regressed adult stem cells may not be as effective as the genuine article.

    Still, I think this possibility must be taken seriously, and we ought to look long and hard at the real possibility of regression of adult cells.


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