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Embryonic stem-cell research and the moral status of embryos

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Stem-cell research has the potential to significantly advance our knowledge of cell differentiation with the promise of exciting and innovative therapeutic applications for otherwise incurable genetic and degenerative disorders. The issue has been the subject of debate in federal and state parliament as research of embryonic stem cells and their application have come under intense scrutiny. Scientists and medical practitioners are highly skilled in the technical aspects of biomedicine but are decidedly less comfortable with ethics. The place of novel and controversial biomedical technology is commonly left to an ad hoc and complex process whereby social acceptability eventually becomes the final arbiter. Utilitarianism is a popular ethical approach that attempts to weigh all the known and anticipated merits and pitfalls. The scientific background of biomedical professionals, the vast explosion of information, and specialization and subspecialization, have all contributed to a reductionistic view of life and ethics. The ‘sanctity of life’ doctrine is altogether quite different, as secular and religious advocates appear inflexible and unyielding to the logical propositions of utilitarianism and reductionism or to the consensus of democracy. These four major ethical approaches are discussed with reference to the embryonic stem-cell research debate. (Intern Med J 2003; 33: 530−531)

Keywords: embryo; ethics; fertilization in vitro; research; stem cells

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Orange Base Hospital, Orange, New South Wales, Australia

Publication date: November 1, 2003

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