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

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

NINE
Human Embryonic Stem Cell Research:
Ethics in the Face of Uncertainty

KEVIN T. FITZGERALD, S.J.

Too often the opposing positions in the stem cell and cloning debate are presented in terms of the obviousness of the assertions they make. In light of the complex nature of these controversial issues challenging our society, the reality that informs these assertions is much less clear and certain than the debaters themselves often recognize. Therefore, this essay addresses the question of how we might best respond to the challenge of human embryonic stem cell research in the face of the uncertainties that pervade this issue. Uncertainty is present in all aspects of this issue: scientific, medical, moral, religious, and political. This essay begins with the areas of uncertainty that are perhaps most surprising and, hence, most vexing for those engaged in this public debate—the scientific and the medical.


The Scientific Setting

In order to appreciate fully the scientific and medical uncertainties in stem cell research, it is helpful to put the science of stem cell research within a larger context of the current advances in molecular and cellular biology. Stem cells are only one part of the rapidly expanding arena of molecular biology research. This arena includes such topics as genetic therapies, genomics, pharmacology, proteomics, and various types of cellular and tissue research.1 All of these research trajectories offer tremendous potential for advancing our scientific knowledge as well as the possibility of leading to new and exciting medical therapies and products.

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