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Research Ethics, Science Policy, and Four Contexts for the Stem Cell Debate
  1. Nigel M. de S. Cameron
  1. From the Institute on Biotechnology and the Human Future, Chicago-Kent College of Law, Illinois Institute of Technology, Chicago, IL. Research for this article was funded by US Small Business Administration Grant Award number SBAHQ-09-1-0003.
  1. Address correspondence to: Dr. Nigel M. de S. Cameron, Chicago-Kent College of Law, 565 W. Adams Street, Chicago, IL 60661; e-mail: ncameron{at}


There are plainly conscientious differences of opinion among scientists, politicians, and the public in respect of both the ethics of embryonic stem cell research and the more general question of the role of public policy in setting parameters for what is legal and what is funded in the biosciences. Although professional discussion of embryonic stem cell research is not hampered by the often misleading oversimplifications of the press, it remains true that the wide range of ethical options is rarely explored. These varied positions arise from a series of at least six logically distinct policy options, which we may summarize in these terms:

(a) All use of human embryos for research is wrong.

(b) Excess in vitro embryos may be used, but others should not be created for the purpose.

(c) In vitro embryos, but not clonal embryos, may be created with the intent of using them for research.

(d) Clonal embryos, but not in vitro embryos, may be created with the intent of using them for research.

(e) Only certain excess embryos destroyed before a certain date should be used.

(f) Only certain excess embryos created before a certain date should be used.

Moreover, in any policy permitting research use of the embryo, two further sets of issues are raised. First is the question of consent. Second is the question of time limits. As advancements in biotechnology shape the possibilities of the twenty-first century and hold out both promise and threat to the human future, it is crucial that we develop a national and global conversation that both encourages science and its potential and takes wider social responsibility for the purposes for which science is engaged.

Key Words
  • bioethics
  • policy
  • embryonic stem cell research (ESCR)
  • stem cells

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