God and the Embryo: Religious Voices on Stem Cells and Cloning

By Brent Waters; Ronald Cole-Turner | Go to book overview

THREE
The Ethics of Human Stem Cell Research

GENE OUTKA

Hype tempts us all. It would be naive to exempt scientists from sometimes overstating the promise of their research. Early claims about what gene therapy would accomplish, for example, arguably were exaggerated and eroded public confidence. Yet claims about what stem cell research may accomplish belong in a class by themselves. The general public is now convinced that something momentous is occurring.1 Both professional and popular publications register the excitement scientists evidence. This research, it is routinely said, not only will expand significantly what we know about cellular life, but also will bring dazzling clinical benefits. Those who suffer from Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, and the like are regularly identified as eventual beneficiaries. The cumulative effect is to raise expectations generally to a high pitch.

Whether these claims will prove exaggerated awaits research efforts that have only just begun.2 As a society, we long for such benefits and sense a genuinely other-regarding motive among those who make these claims. That is, the prospect that such research will bring concrete benefits to numerous human sufferers motivates scientists to engage in it. At the same time, we recognize that less altruistic consideration—e.g., a search for windfall financial profits—sometimes operate as well.

Yet, concern about profits figures only marginally in the ethical controversies that this research has generated so far. Rather, the controversies show

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