The Ethical Debate of Embryonic Stem Cell Research

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Stem cell research is often at the forefront of heated ethical debates due to its assessment of human life. If stem cell research cannot be ethically defended, then it should not be conducted. “You cannot defend a study ethically unless the presumed cost is lower than expected benefits. The cost-benefit analysis of scientific research needs to include human/animal discomfort/risks, environmental issues, material costs, etc” which is necessary to support the positive outcome which the research claims to provide (experiment-resources, 2008). The two opposing ethical arguments which have to be defended morally are that of utilitarianism and deontology. “Utilitarianism is an ethical theory that determines the moral value of an act in terms of its results, and if those results produce the greatest good for the greatest number. As a consequentialist theory, it is contrasted with nonconsequentialist theories, such as deontology” (Mosser, 2011). The Utilitarian argument of stem cell research is that, although the most valuable research has been derived from aborted human fetuses, stem cell research can cure multiple diseases and greatly advance science and medicine, so this is what should be done. “Deontology is the study of moral obligation and necessity, finding the source of ethical correctness in the rules according to which one acts. It rejects utilizing the results or consequences of an act to evaluate an act as moral and thus is a non-consequentialist theory. It is standardly contrasted with the consequentialist theory of utilitarianism” (Mosser, 2011). Skeptics with a deontological view would counter-argue saying that it is unethical to destroy human life to save human life, so this should not be done. Both of these arguments are complex and need to be evaluated to conclude which has the higher benefit. Scientists and others who share a utilitarian stance support stem cell research by claiming the ethical cost is low compared to a high benefit. The benefits of stem cell research can help find cures and treatments for diseases and ailments such as Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, heart disease, stroke and diabetes, cancer, birth defects, spinal cord injuries, and damaged organs (experiment-resources, 2008). Additionally, “there is endless potential for scientists to learn about human growth and cell development from studying stem cells” (Phillips, 2010). Unethical implications have included use embryo research and aborted fetuses. The controversy over using aborted fetuses for research was much higher prior to 2007. At this time, scientists defend this method on the bases that it would be better to use the fetuses to help humanity as opposed to throwing them away as waist. Scientists defend embryo research on the bases “that week-old blastocysts are not human beings, and that destroying those embryos does not constitute killing. At one week, embryos are merely a cluster of cells and not deserving of the protections afforded to others, they say. When conceived naturally, a blastocyst has not been implanted in the uterus by that time. Most scientists argue that an embryo is not a person until it is at least two weeks old, when it develops a so-called primitive streak, the first evidence of a nervous system” (, 2001). Pro-Lifers, Antiabortionists, and others with a deontological stance oppose stem cell research. Antiabortionists claim research done on human fetuses devalues human life, so the ethical cost of this research far outweighs the advantages. The primary premise of this argument is that it is unethical to destroy human life to save human life. “Use of embryonic stem cells for research involves the destruction of blastocysts formed from laboratory-fertilized human eggs. For those who believe that life begins at conception, the blastocyst is a human life and to destroy it is unacceptable and immoral” (Phillips, 2010). “Pope John Paul II has offered one argument designed to address this view...
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