Medical Reading

Ethicist Proposes Embryonic Stem Cell Research Policy

May 01, 2017

The debate over human embryonic stem cell (hESC) research can be informed by a line of moral reasoning thus far overlooked in legislative drafting, according to Louis M. Guenin, lecturer on ethics in science at Harvard Medical School, whose commentary will be published in the journal Stem Cells and is available now as an early online publication in Stem Cells Express.

Guenin writes that the overlooked reasoning starts from the premise that a woman's decision declining transfer of her externally created embryo into her, or into anyone else, is a morally permissible exercise of discretion; and further, that an embryo barred by such a decision from the womb does not correspond to a possible person and cannot gain anything from being classified as an actual person.

"Embryos barred from the womb and donated to medicine," Guenin observes, "present us with a means by which we might relieve suffering in actual lives at no cost in potential lives."

Guenin proposes a policy by which "the government shall support biomedical research using human embryos that, before or after formation, have been donated to medicine under donor instructions forbidding intrauterine transfer." This policy "wears its justification on its sleeve," he writes, and optimizes the scope of research, resting both use and creation of embryos on the same moral ground.

In regard to reproductive cloning, Guenin maintains that because the FDA has effectively interdicted the practice, the likely incidence in the U.S. is nil. Hence anticloning legislation would be at best redundant, at worst a platform for barring valuable research. His commentary makes reference to the Dickey Amendment, which bars federal funding of research in which human embryos are created or destroyed, and the pending Castle-DeGette bill which would partially override it.

Guenin, co-chair of the ethics committee of the International Society for Stem Cell Research, has written extensively on the morality of embryo use in medicine. Stem Cells, an international peer-reviewed journal, provides a forum for original investigative papers and concise reviews. It is written and read by clinical and basic scientists whose expertise encompasses the rapidly expanding fields of stem and progenitor cell biology. StemCells

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Laurel Ferejohn, Communications
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