Stem Cell Research

This recent approach to treating and curing disease introduces into the body healthy undifferentiated stem cells that can develop into whatever type of cells the body needs to become healthy. It has associations both with ground-breaking medicine and with ethical controversy.

The use of stem cells from human embryos raises the concerns of people opposed to ABORTION. Embryonic stem cells come from embryos that have been allowed to develop for a few days after fertilization. Some scientists consider this primitive stage of embryonic development so far from consideration as a baby or even a fetus that no moral crisis is presented by the practice of (as they call it) “harvesting” such cells. They also point out that the embryos used to create stem cell lines come from fertility clinics, where multiple eggs are fertilized (and usually frozen) in order to increase the chance of obtaining one viable embryo. However, many religious people consider personhood to begin at the moment of fertilization. Thus the procedure of harvesting (and possibly even fertilizing with intent to discard) human embryos equates to murder in their eyes.

Not all stem cells come from embryos, however. Increasingly stem cells are obtained from adults, for example from bone marrow or blood. Some believe that the embryonic-stem-cell controversy will soon end because there will be no more need for embryonic stem cells. Others, however, point out that the quality of stem cells from embryonic sources is superior, and that this fact will lead to a continued desire to use them in medical research and treatment. Embryonic stem cells are pluripotent, meaning that they can develop into almost any of the over 200 cell types in the body. In contrast, adult stem cells are only multipotent. They can develop into a few cell types, but no more. For this reason, some critics argue that the stem cell controversy is not about to end any time soon.

Still another view is that because embryonic stem cells have been recently found (alive) in breast milk and in umbilical cords - or because of some other medical advance - the controversy may be at an end for a different reason. We may be able to obtain truly pluripotent stem cells without any reliance on human embryos of any kind.

Some people say that even if the stem cell controversy is at an end, we are well warned about the future of out-of-control science, which has demonstrably failed to respect basic moral values. The lesson of stem cell research, say its critics, is that ethical guidelines must be put in place beforenew moral crises arise.


  • Pretend you alone are in charge of telling all the doctors and scientists in the world how much they can save life by destroying life. Where do you draw the line? How much is too much? Of what?

  • What would cause you to change your mind about that?

  • What if you found out that something in your decision was not abstract, but was going to have a life-changing effect on your own life or those of your loved ones? Would that change the line you draw?


Mary Jacksteit, Cynthia Kurtz

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