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Stem Cell Research & The Utilitarian Principle

942 words - 4 pages

Stem Cell Research and the Utilitarian Principle

Human Embryonic Stem Cell (HESC) Research offers hope in alleviating suffering from debilitating diseases and possibly death. HESC are characterized by their ability to self-renew and different into different types of cells (pluri-potency). The main goal of HESC Research is to identify which mechanism governs cell differentiation, and then turn the HESC into the specific cells types which may be used to treat various illnesses. The restorative benefits of HESC are strong factors in favor of the research. Despite the promise of HESC Research, many still oppose it because harvesting of HESC ultimately leads to the destruction of the ...view middle of the document...

Arguments in support of HESC Research invariably incorporate Utilitarian sentiments. We argue that the end result of ‘sacrificing’ embryos to harvest their stem cells is so overwhelmingly positive – because of the large number of illnesses it has the potential to cure – that it must be the right thing to do. Illnesses for which we have no cure such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, Diabetes or paralysis have the potential to be cured. Proponents of HESC research argue that without the use of HESC the research cannot move forward and the ability to end this aspect of human suffering and save lives is delayed or lost. Consequently, the destruction of the embryos to obtain stem cells is justified; healing the sick is the greater good which results in the most happiness for the greatest number of people, so the research should be pursued at the expense of human embryonic life (Hollinger, 2001).

Embryos, while of value are not equivalent to human life as long as they are still incapable of existing outside the womb. To the Utilitarian, the social, economic and personal benefits to humanity that may be realized through this vital research are more important and of far greater value than personal costs associated with the destruction of the embryo, especially because in most cases the embryos were already slated for destruction.

One critical argument against utilitarianism as it relates to HESC research is that it diminishes human dignity and worth. This is related to Kant’s deontology which states we should never treat people as means to an end, but rather always as ends. There is much debate about when human life actually begins. Opponents of HESC posit that human life begins at fertilization – thus human status is conferred on the zygote and it earns the right not to be killed. If the embryo is considered a person,...

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