Academic journal article The Hastings Center Report

Stem Cells: The Next Steps

Academic journal article The Hastings Center Report

Stem Cells: The Next Steps

Article excerpt

Often enough, moral debates are settled more by acclamation than by rational b argumentation, and often acclamation means a preponderance of opinion rather than universal support, and frequently that preponderance is reached only by degrees, and reflected only in a change in the questions people are thinking about, rather than in any decisive exchange. One wakes up one morning and suddenly realizes that the debate has moved on, even though the initial question was perhaps never fully resolved.

We may be at this point in the debate about whether to destroy embryos in order to do research on the embryonic stem cells they contain. In fact, perhaps the related debate about whether to engage in cloning in order to create new stern cell lines is also over.

At any rate, some of the material in this issue of the Report asks us to look at the next set of questions--those that follow the threshold question of whether to do the research at all. A special set of essays (made possible by a gift from Frank Trainer, one of The Hastings Center's board members) offers an update on how stem cell research is proceeding and what new issues are arising as it does. The central theme of the lead piece, by science writer Steve Hall, is that there are many ideas and initiatives but, because of the political snarl around stem cells, few projects under way. We have settled on doing the research; the immediate next question, says Hall, is how much delay to allow (or require) for work that most people support and from which many might benefit, but that a significant minority finds deeply unacceptable.

Very little, think the scientists Hall interviews. A more cautious view is offered by Jonathan Kimmelman and coauthors in an accompanying commentary. …

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