Stemming the Stem Cells Debate

The stem cell controversy surrounds two 2 key questions:

1. Is the use of embryonic stem cells better than its ethical alternatives (eg. adult stem cells, umblicial cord blood stem cells)?

2. When does an embryo become "human"?

To me, the first question is not important because the key issue here is not on the effectiveness of methods but morality (click here for a pragmatic view); is it justifiable to take the life of one person against his will in order to save millions of lives?

I am very sure the answer to the above question is a clear NO for most people - the Holocaust is the result of people saying YES - the Nazis systematically killed people (Jews, homosexuals, mentally & physically disabled etc.) that they thought were a threat to Germany.

Hence, I feel that if the second question can be answered conclusively, then the stem cells debated might be stemmed once and for all.

In fact, this question has already been thoroughly debated without a conclusion - one such article "The Ethics of Human Embryonic Stem Cell Research" provides a multi-religious perspective.

To me, the one cell (zygote) produced by the fertilisation of an egg cell by a sperm cell is already "human" since it is one unique entity that would eventually become a complete human being.

If we refuse this definition and continue debating about the precise point in time when the embryo "humanises" or when God "injects" a soul into the embryo, then we risk the following in the process:

1. Continued killings of millions of innocent lives through embryonic stem cell research

2. Distortion of the very meaning of being human - biological versus theological; if a person is shown to be biologically incapable of human reasoning (eg. the mentally-illed) or incapable of human behaviour (eg. those in a comatose or vegetative state), is he still "human" and protected by human laws?

"The world cannot take two different roads: the road of those who are willing to sacrifice or commercialize human beings for the sake of a privileged few, and the road of those who cannot accept this abuse. For its own sake, humanity needs a common basis - a common understanding of humanity and a common understanding of the fundamental bases upon which all our ideas about human rights depend..."
From the Vatican, September 27, 2004


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