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What’s in a name? Embryos, entities, and ANTities in the stem cell debate
  1. K Devolder
  1. Correspondence to:
 MsK Devolder
 Centre for Environmental Philosophy and Bioethics, Ghent University, Blandijnberg 2, 9000 Ghent, Belgium; Katrien.devolder{at}

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This paper discusses two proposals to the US President’s Council on Bioethics that try to overcome the issue of killing embryos in embryonic stem (ES) cell research and argues that neither of them can hold good as a compromise solution. The author argues that (1) the groups of people for which the compromises are intended neither need nor want the two compromises, (2) the US government and other governments of countries with restrictive regulation on ES cell research have not provided a clear and sound justification to take into account minority views on the protection of human life to such a considerable extent as to constrain the freedom of research in the area of stem cell research, and (3) the best way to deal with these issues is to accept that many people and most governments adopt a gradualist and variable viewpoint on the human embryo which implies that embryos can be sacrificed for good reasons and to try to find other, less constraining, ways to take into account minority views on the embryo. Finally, another more efficient and time and money sparing compromise will be proposed for those who accept IVF, a majority in most societies.


Stem cells are widely believed to represent one of the greatest promises for medicine and biomedical research in the coming century with hopes raised for treatments for common diseases and conditions, including neurological disease or injury, diabetes, and myocardial infarct. At present there are three main lines of stem cell research, namely on stem cells originating from early in vitro embryos, left over from infertility treatment, or especially created for research through in vitro fertilisation (IVF) or cell nuclear transfer (CNT) (embryonic stem (ES) cells), on cord blood derived stem cells, and on stem cells from more developed tissues or organs from foetuses …

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