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Unpublished Paper
A Defense of Stem Cell Research
ExpressO (2008)
  • Gregory Dolin, Northwestern University

Isolation of human embryonic stem cells in 1998 simultaneously caused great excitement and concern in the scientific community and the population at large. The great promises that the discovery held were viewed with suspicion by many, because the isolation of these stem cells involved destruction of an embryo, and thus, according to some, destruction of innocent human life. Full ten years later, the debate still rages. The present Article proposes a solution to this debate.

The solution concedes that the embryo is a human being entitled to full moral protection. Having made that concession, however, the Article proceeds to argue that an embryo that is cryogenically stored is human life on an indefinite life support with miniscule chance of survival even if implantation and pregnancy are attempted. Consequently, much like the parents of a permanently comatose child are allowed to let him expire without further invasive medical procedures, the parents of the embryo are entitled to let it expire without attempting further medical manipulations. I further argue that once a decision to let the embryo expire is made, the parents can legitimately make a further decision to donate its tissues to scientific research. In suggesting this approach, the Article draws distinctions between embryos created for the sole purpose of research and embryos created during the course of infertility treatment. I argue that only in the latter case, do the “creators” of the embryo are in a position to consent to the withdrawal of cryogenic conditions. I contend that individuals have a right to create embryos in pursuit of pregnancy and creation of a family. Once individuals create these embryos, they have the same moral authority over them, as they would over born children. On the other hand, I suggest that those who create embryos purely for research do not have similar moral standing, as their primary concern is not the children (or embryos) created, but advances in research.

Prior to launching into the substance of the argument outlined above, the Article painstakingly goes through the scientific basis of embryonic stem cell research and in vitro fertilization procedures. The discussion is necessary because it forms the basis for the moral argument presented in the subsequent parts of the Article. Specifically, in order to understand why the frozen embryo is morally analogous to a child on life support one needs to know the success rate of thawing, implanting, and having it gestate until normal birth. Similarly, in order to understand why harvesting cells from embryos is akin to organ harvesting from already born individuals, one needs to understand the process of collecting and growing embryonic stem cells.

The Article concludes by showing that in accepting the proposed solution, one can with intellectual consistency continue to oppose abortion as an unjustified taking of human life.

  • Stem cell research,
  • embryo,
  • life support,
  • organ donation,
  • proxy consent,
  • assisted reproduction,
  • in vitro fertilization
Publication Date
Citation Information
Gregory Dolin. "A Defense of Stem Cell Research" ExpressO (2008)
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