Title: The Stem Cell Controversy: Debating the Issues
Author: Michael Ruse and Christopher A. Pynes
Publisher: Prometheus Press
Provides an excellent basis for understanding and debating the issues
Offers material not easily found otherwise
Addresses issues from a wide range of subjects
Collection of articles, essays on stem-cell research
Offers several perspectives in the debate over the ethics of stem-cell research
Tries to help readers make sense of the science, ethics, and social policy questions
There is no lack of news stories dealing with the stem cells and their use in medical treatment, but the public could use more substantive discussion about what stem cells are and why they are useful. There could also be more serious philosophical engagements with the issues that this research raises.
Such discussion exists, but not in places where the general public can readily access it the material is most likely to be found in specialized journals, for example. Thats where the book The Stem Cell Controversy: Debating the Issues, by Michael Ruse and Christopher A. Pynes comes in handy.
Few people would treat embryos as mere commodities, things that can be bought, sold, traded, and destroyed at a whim. If nothing else, even strong supporters of stem-cell research would tend to accord embryos a level of respect similar to that of animals used in medical research, even if there isnt any need to worry about issues like pain and suffering.
Why would this be the case, especially if one doesnt think that an embryo has rights? I think its because embryos are regarded as having at least some measure of symbolic value for the human species. They may not be adult human beings with the full set of rights and privileges that goes with such a status, but they do represent human life and potential on some level; as such treating them like objects could lead to a cheapening of very real values like parenting and procreation.
This is not an unreasonable concern and is sufficient to warrant taking care with just how far society should go when it comes to harvesting and using stem cells. It should also provide a basis for compromise between supporters and opponents of stem-cell research. As far apart as the two sides are, no progress will be made on any front without some effort to arrive at points of agreement.
The stark choices between the two perspectives are made clear at the beginning in the Introduction:
- To put things in context, it can take six or more embryos to produce enough cells to treat a Parkinsons sufferer successfully. Six embryos that have been produced artificially in order to harvest their cells, or six embryos that have been conceived naturally and then aborted, whether or not the abortion was done with the deliberate end of harvesting stem cells. But is it right to treat human beings in this way, or if you cavil at calling the early embryo a human being is it right to treat potential human beings in this way?
- If individuals fall sick, it is usually not their fault. Why then should they be denied the opportunity of cure? Why then should they be denied the opportunity of cure if already there is an abundant supply of the needed material anyway the millions of aborted fetuses that are already discarded every year? By what right should those who suffer be denied cure by the wishes or demands of those whose moral or religious convictions are not shared by the rest of us?
Both of these are powerful testaments to the positions they represent. Is there any way to reconcile them? Im really not sure, but with the resources included in this book people might have a solid basis for working on such a solution. Articles here address the science of the what stem cells are, possible medical cures, moral questions, religious issues, and some of the policy issues facing politicians today.
It is difficult to underestimate the importance of stem-cell research, both in terms of its medical potential as well as its potential to divide society. Because of its possible benefits, it promises to fundamentally restructure the traditional forces that stand opposed to abortion. Support for it is even more widespread than is support for legalized abortion. Everyone should take the time to learn more about the issue and this is one of the best places to start.