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Stem Cell Ethics: A Theological Brief

By Gaymon Bennett, Karen Lebacqz and Ted Peters

Should our society support medical scientists engaged in research on human embryonic stem cells? Some say “yes.” Others say, “no.” Why?

In the theological brief that follows, we will first offer a concise reminder of the significance of stem cells and the science of their derivation. We will then turn to the ethical controversy. We propose that this controversy is dominated by three competing moral frameworks.

  1. The embryo protection framework directs our attention toward the derivation of stem cells.
  2. The nature protection  framework directs our attention toward perceived threats to our humanity in the face of advancing biotechnology, so it seeks to protect human nature from scientists playing God and our society from slipping toward Brave New World.
  3. The medical benefits framework focuses on the improvement of human health and well being that the science of regenerative medicine promises.

Finally, we will suggest three foundational rules for guiding Christian thinking about the ethics of stem cell research, rules that can be shared across moral frameworks.

Moral frameworks are conceptual devices used to sort through and order the various ethical questions raised by stem cell research. Questions asked within one framework may not be answered, or even addressed, within another framework. Indeed, some questions may be specifically excluded. Like the public generally, Christians along with Jews and Muslims often operate within these moral frameworks without understanding fully their implications. The rhetoric flying back and forth in the public debate is often colorful, acrimonious, and mean spirited. Frequently it obfuscates, making it difficult to discern just what the central issues might be and what is really at stake. By understanding all three frameworks and their implications for ethics, thoughtful Christians along with Jewish and Muslim colleagues can sort through the politicized rhetoric and make clearer moral decisions.

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Go to Genetics Topic Index

Stem Cell Ethics: A Theological Brief

The Promise and Science of Stem Cells
Stem Cells and Cloning
Framework #1: Protecting the Early Embryo
Framework #2: Protecting Human Nature from Brave New World
Framework #3: Medical Benefits
Jewish and Muslim Frameworks
More Ethical Questions
What about Other Sources of Stem Cells?
Souls, Humans, and God
What Should We Do?
Further Reading


Gaymon Bennett, Karen Lebacqz and Ted Peters

See also:
Pain and Suffering
Books on Biology, Genetics and Theology
DNA Double-Helix