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Genetics and Society: A Course for Educators

American Museum of Natural History

Professors: Rob DeSalle, Ph.D., David Randle, Ph.D.

Student: Jhonattan Alfredo Martinez Portilla

Peer Assessment

Stem Cells: Ethical Issues

Stem cells can generate many tissue cells that can be used for therapeutic purposes in
incurable disease. Although many applications of stem cells are under study, that research
has brought great hopes and promises but also doubts and religious nonacceptance and
ethical questions in some societies. Embryonic stem cell research has been defied with
questions from medical professionals, the religious groups and the public. The controversy
is noticeably related to human dignity, reservoir of stem cells and the moral condition of the
human embryo.
Stem cell experimentation is a promising but polemic matter for many religious people that
have a strong position. Conception, implantation, ensoulement are precise levels in which
different groups demand dignity.
The Scientific Community
Scientific community support the stem cell research due to the great scientific and medical
promise for the understanding and treatment of a great range of human diseases such as
Type I diabetes, Alzheimers, Parkinsons disease, spinal cord injuries, and heart disease
(Nisbet, 2004).
According to Mukherjee (2008), most of the scientists believe that the benefits of stem cell
research outweigh the costs in terms of embryonic life (p.2). They believe that embryos
are not equivalent to human life since they are incapable of existing outside the womb. At
this level of their development they have no brain, no central nervous system, no pain
receptors, no sensory perception and are fully devoid of any kind of consciousness
(Mukherjee, 2008, p. 2).
The Religious Community
The polemic about the use of stem cells is related to deeply religious and philosophic views
regarding elective abortion and when human life begins (McCloskey, 2002, as cited by
Johnson and Jackson, 2000).
This group, which includes organizations with a pro-life stance like Concerned Women for
America, the Vatican and the Roman Catholic Church, the Christian Medical Association,
the American Life League, the National Right to Life Committee, Human International, and
conservative Republicans are strongly opposed to stem cell research especially with ESCs
(McCloskey, 2002).

There are two crucial ethical and moral arguments that religious leaders make:

1. The blastocyst is human life and it is wrong to deliberately kill someone for the benefit
of others. They are entitled to all the moral protections of other born human beings such as
protection against being killed. (Brock, 2006). Similarly, Pro-life movement members
believe that life starts at conception and that the fetus and even frozen embryos have a soul
(Nisbet, 2004).
2. Humans should not be able to play 'God'. Therapeutic cloning, while technically not
human life is a precursor to human cloning, which is immoral (British-North American
Committee, 2004; Brock, 2006).
A possible solution for this conflict could be teaching of genetics in the schools to show to
the students what genetics and the most important what an embryo is because there are
some misconceptions about what a embryo really is, religious people think and embryo is a
human being but as we know an embryo is just a multicellular diploid eukaryote in its
earliest stage of development, teahching this in schools could change the mind of many
people and state that there is no a moral equivalent of an adult human. To demand that
someone is harmed, must be someone there so we do not have to concede moral rights to a
group of cells.
If we can teach genetics in schools that will be a great progress and the people could
change their thoughts about the use of stem cells in research and if we can achieve this that
will open the doors for great development in medicine and the treatment of some incurable
diseases however we have to be conscious that fanatic and extremist religious people are
really difficult to be persuade when talking about their beliefs, we can only hope that some
day humanity will grow up, leave its religious infancy behind, and reason as adults about
moral matters.


Brock, D.W. (2006). Is a consensus possible on stem cell research? Moral and political
obstacles. J Med Ethics, 32, 36-42. doi: 10.1136/jme.2005.013581
Nisbet M.C. (2004). Public opinion about stem cell research and human cloning. American
Association for Public Opinion Research, 68(1), 131-154. doi:
Mukherjee, S. (2008). Induced pluripotent stem cells: a new hope or a new
controversy?. UCL Institute of Child Health, 6. Retrieved August 16, 2010,
McCloskey, B.A. (2002). The controversy surrounding stem cell research. Policy, Politics,
& Nursing Practice, 3(1), 4-13. doi: 10.1177/152715440200300102