K. Decoder, Creating and Sacrificing Embryos for Stem Cells

Issues in Law & Medicine, Fall 2005 | Go to article overview

K. Decoder, Creating and Sacrificing Embryos for Stem Cells


K. Decoder, Creating and Sacrificing Embryos for Stem Cells, 31 J. MED. ETHICS 366 (2005).

One of the central questions in the current stem cell debate is whether human embryonic stem cell research (ESCR) should be allowed, and, if so, under what constraints. On the one hand, there is a consensus that of all types of stem cells, the embryonic stem cells hold the most promise for therapeutic research. On the other hand, there is the controversial issue of killing human embryos through stem cell derivation.

The author focuses on the compromise position that accepts the use and derivation of stem cells from spare in vitro fertilization (IVF) embryos that are no longer needed in a procreation project, but opposes the creation of embryos solely for the purpose of stem cell derivation, so-called "research embryos." Many European advisory and regulatory bodies defend this position and a survey of public attitudes in nine European Union countries has shown that the majority of the participants in this research project also share this viewpoint.

The author argues that this position, which is grounded on the moral distinction between the use of spare embryos for research and therapy and the creation of research embryos--the so-called "discarded-created distinction" (hereinafter "DCD")--is a very weak position. She argues that whatever the basis for according intrinsic value to the embryo, once the creation and sacrifice of embryos to benefit infertile people is accepted, there is no sound reason to condemn the creation and sacrifice of embryos to benefit ill and injured people.

Most advocates of DCD genuinely think the embryo deserves special respect. They consider it to be more valuable than any other human cell or tissue. However, by accepting the creation of spare embryos and their use for research, they apparently believe that its right to life can be weighed against other values and interests and that human dignity is not violated per se by using early embryos as a means for research.

This raises the following question: If defenders of DCD do not consider the embryo as a person, and therefore accept the creation and sacrifice of embryos to help infertile people and their use for research, should they not also accept the creation and sacrifice of embryos to help to cure ill and injured people? After all, in both cases embryos are created as a means to alleviate human suffering and increase human well-being. The utilitarian argument alone does not suffice to justify DCD. …

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