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Is a consensus possible on stem cell research? Moral and political obstacles
  1. D W Brock
  1. Correspondence to:
 D W Brock
 Division of Medical Ethics, Department of Social Medicine, Harvard Medical School, 641 Huntington Avenue, 4th Floor, Boston, MA 02115; dan_brock{at}hms.harvard.edu

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Neither of the two central moral and political obstacles to human embryonic stem cell research survives critical scrutiny

This paper argues that neither of the two central moral and political obstacles to human embryonic stem cell (HESC) research survives critical scrutiny: first, that derivation of HESCs requires the destruction of human embryos which are full human persons or are at least deserving of respect incompatible with their destruction; second, that creation of HESCs using somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT) or cloning is immoral. First, different sources of HESCs are distinguished and the distinct moral objections that might apply to each. Second, it is argued that none of the properties plausibly conferring personhood on an entity is possessed by human embryos, and then shown how destruction of an embryo for research with the prospect of important medical benefits can be compatible with respecting it. Third, it is shown that the main objection to human cloning is only to reproductive cloning and that the objection to creating human beings with the intention of destroying them does not apply to SCNT. Finally, the concern that acquiring human eggs for SCNT would involve exploiting women donors is addressed, and it is shown how that can be avoided.

Human embryonic stem cell (HESC) research has become one of the more politically and morally controversial issues of our time. There is wide variability in what HESC research, if any, is permitted in countries around the world. Within the United States HESC research was a major issue in the last presidential election and some states, such as California, are devoting substantial public monies to fund this research while others prohibit it. In this paper I will explore some of the main obstacles to reaching consensus on this issue in the hope of at least narrowing the disagreement …

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