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Home > Biomedical Research > Stem cell therapy > Ethics


In this section you find ethical issues surrounding stem cell therapy.

StemGen, a module of the HumGen website , is a research database of international, regional and national normative instruments concerning the socio-ethical and legal aspects of stem cell research and related therapies:

  1. Respect for human life    
    Respect for human life requires that we show respect for human embryos. Some people believe that embryonic stem cell research violates this principle, as an embryo is destroyed during the process of stem cell line derivation. Others argue that the potential benefits of stem cell research (e.g. alleviating human suffering) represents a way of showing respect for human life.

    Additional concerns rest on the belief that the creation of embryos for research purposes and the derivation of stem cell lines might lead to the de-sensitisation of human life and to potentially uncontrolled commercialisation or instrumentalization of the human body.

    One must keep in mind that these issues are directly linked with another key issue: the moral and legal status of the human embryo.
  2. Human dignity    
    The concept of human dignity is a difficult one because it is unclear what it means exactly; and this is exacerbated by the fact that it has been employed to justify fundamentally opposing views. Most authors understand the notion of human dignity as our essential humanity, what makes us human. Consequently this concept is closely related to beliefs regarding the moral status of the human embryo. 
  3. Status of the human embryo     
    This is a delicate question with various answers according to each individual’s conception of the embryo. On the one hand, some consider embryos to be cell masses having no more value than any other biological cell or tissue. On the other hand, some confer the human embryo full personhood status; that is, they consider the human embryo to have the same moral status as a human being that has been born.
    Finally, many people hold a gradualist view; they consider moral status to be a continuous process; as the embryo proceeds through stages of development, it gradually gains moral value. This position emphasizes the embryo’s potential to become a human being and, hence, affords the embryo “special respect”.