Question: Will Stem Cell Research Encourage an Increase in Embryo Destruction and Abortions?
this is a quantitative question applied to a qualitative ethical concern, we
intuitively sense that the public impact of such science is morally relevant.
We rightly fear that if such science and its resulting technology proceed this
might encourage couples to fertilize ova for the purposes of sale or donation
and that it might encourage abortions for harvesting hEG cells. At this point,
however, it appears that this would be an unfounded fear.
fertilized ova are already being generated by reproductive technology clinics
than will ever be implanted. It is known well in advance that many will be
destroyed as a matter of course. Therefore, diverting some for scientific
research purposes constitutes a potential beneficial use for tissue that would
otherwise be discarded. Scientific research is not in effect preventing human
us press the question: would stem cell research lead to increased demand for
fetal tissue or for IVF embryos? Probably not. Over the last four or five years
of research, relatively few fetuses, less than 100, have actually been
harvested for experimentation. Experiments at University of San Francisco and
University of Wisconsin use less than two dozen IVF embryos per year. The hope
downstream is that laboratories could generate enough stem cells in culture to
preclude constant demand for more and more tissue. In sum, stem cell research
as presently understood should have a negligible impact on IVF or abortion
Ethics Advisory Board of the Geron Corporation, for a case in point, has taken
a position against deliberately fertilizing ova for the purpose of selling or
even donating them to make hES cells. Stem cell research of this type should
proceed on the assumption that it would have a sufficient supply of discarded
fertilized ova that would never have had the opportunity for implantation. The
Ethics Advisory Board strongly recommends that the donating women or couples provide
fully informed consent, but not that they share in the financial profit. The removal
of the profit motive at this stage of harvesting will be ethically helpful,
because it avoids treating fertilized ova and fetuses as property.
regard to the practice of using aborted fetuses as a source for hEG cells, it
would pass a strict Roman Catholic moral test if it meets one condition. If the
fetuses are the result of spontaneous or natural abortion, then harvesting hEG
cells would be licit. If they are the result of elective abortion, then it
would not be licit. Similarly, Jewish ethical principles are likely to yield
approval on the grounds that medical science is drawing something good out of
an otherwise tragic situation, drawing good out of a respectful use of a dead
body. Apart from the question of when life begins in or beyond the womb, the
appeal here is to the moral value of the dead providing something life-giving
for those who come later.
matter how relevant such traditional deliberation might be, many more questions
remain to be formulated and attended to.
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| Contributed by: Dr. Ted Peters