By: Dr. Andrew J. Rochman
The issue of morality and ethics regarding stem cells has been a popular ongoing debate. The aim of this discussion on ethics is to consider the effects of stem cell research and therapy on the society. Basically, there are two issues that need to be considered when discussing embryonic stem cell research:
· - the status of an embryo as a person
· - the moral obligation of alleviating pain and suffering in the society
The Status of an Embryo as an Individual Person
As yet, there appears to be no consensus on the issue of declaring an embryo as a person. Some say that it is wrong to decide to ‘pinpoint’ when a fertilized egg can be called a person, since human development is an ongoing process. An embryo will eventually grow to become a person and it is wrong to take the right of living away from any human being.
On the other hand, opponents of this view say that an embryo is merely a clump of cells and does not possess any characteristics that are present in human beings. It has no senses, no ability to walk, to communicate with others or feel. Since all these characteristics are absent, an embryo can be used to treat people who are already in suffering.
Some also argue that an embryo, after 14 days deserves special treatment. Once this period passes it cannot split to form two or more babies. Also, an embryo has no central nervous system before day 14 of fertilization and preferably only those embryos should be used that have no signs of development of a central nervous system (EuroStemCell, 2014).
The Status of an Embryo Increases with Its Growth
As the embryo develops, it begins to exhibit more and more characteristics of a person. It seems that an embryo that is on a higher stage of development is given more respect as it appears to be ‘more of a human’. Therefore, some people argue that embryos at a later stage of development should be used sparingly for stem cell research.
An argument used to counter this one, is that that we, as humans, decide who is more important to us: the person whose life could potentially be saved by this form of therapy, or the unborn person that has no emotional links to anyone in the world we know. If we claim that an embryo is not a person since it lacks a central nervous system, then do we say that a person with a disused nervous system and no nerve cells is longer a person as well? (Stemcells.nih.gov, 2014)
No Moral Status for Embryos
This argument states that an embryo is not a person since it has no distinguishing traits of a human and therefore, no morality should come into play. However, this argument is countered by the fact that an embryo is in the process of becoming a human being and therefore deserves the same status (Stemcells.nih.gov, 2014).
EuroStemCell, (2014). Embryonic stem cell research: an ethical dilemma. [online] Available at: http://www.eurostemcell.org/factsheet/embyronic-stem-cell-research-ethical-dilemma [Accessed 16 May. 2014].
Stemcells.nih.gov, (2014). Research Ethics and Stem Cells [Stem Cell Information]. [online] Available at: http://stemcells.nih.gov/info/pages/ethics.aspx [Accessed 16 May. 2014].
The New Atlantis, (2014). Appendix C - Ethical Considerations Regarding Stem Cell Research. [online] Available at: http://www.thenewatlantis.com/publications/appendix-c-ethical-considerations-regarding-stem-cell-research [Accessed 16 May. 2014].
Apart from the moral and ethical standpoint, there are religious viewpoint that differ on the use of embryonic stem cells: Christianity prohibits the use of embryos for stem cell research and Islam and Judaism allow it on certain conditions (EuroStemCell, 2014). However, as a society, we have a long and interesting debate in front of us as stem cell technology grows and provides new opportunities for treatment.