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Stem Cell Research

Ethical Questions

1. You are a United States researcher doing very promising work that could lead to a cure for Alzheimer's disease. However, in order to continue your research, you need a large source of stem cells. A local fertility clinic will sell you leftover blastocysts that it would otherwise be throw away. However, a non-profit group, that considers the blastocysts to be human lives, wants to buy them and let other couples "adopt" them for their own infertility treatments.

Obtaining the cells might be the last thing needed for you to cure a serious disease, but some would argue that you are destroying human lives in the process.

Should you still purchase the cells if they have the potential to develop into fetuses? What sources of stem cells are acceptable?


2. You are a National Institutes of Health researcher who needs access to a wide variety of stem cell lines for your research. However, the federal government will only give you funding if you use their 71 approved cell lines, which is about half as many as you need. A private biotechnology firm offers to hire you and support your work. If you go to a private firm, you will have all of the cell lines that you need, but many of these lines could come from aborted fetuses or excess fertility clinic blastocysts.

Your work cannot progress if you do not have enough cell lines, but the cell lines ineligible for federal funding are considered, by the government, to come from developing humans who were deliberately killed to produce stem cell lines.

Is it acceptable to avoid federal funding to conduct the research that could save lives?


3. You are the President of the United States and are trying to decide if the federal government should fund or restrict funding on stem cell research. You are concerned that some methods of obtaining stem cells are unethical or immoral and want to prevent those methods from being used. However, you do not want to interfere in the conduct of private, non-government affiliated researchers and are therefore considering banning such research only in government labs or labs that receive government funding. At the same time, you do not want to restrict medical advancement any more than necessary and are trying to leave as many research options open as possible.

What should your policy on stem cell research be? Should you only restrict federal research or attempt to restrict all research in the United States? If you restricted all research would that shift the research and therefore the intellectual and economic capital overseas and would that be worse? Is it even your job to decide what kind of research is appropriate in the country? In making your decision, whose ethical beliefs should you consider – Yours? Religious leaders? Private citizens?