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National Research Act & Working with Embryos


How should the National Research Act of 1974 govern embryonic stem cell research?


Answer: Embryonic stem cell research conflicts with the Federal Law. First, the embryo is not being treated as an autonomous agent and is not given protection. The law was particularly designed to protect those who are most vulnerable from other members of society. Second, there is a complete lack of beneficence since there is ultimate harm to the embryo, and there are no safeguards to protect the embryo from harm or an effort to create any benefit to the embryo. Third, embryonic stem cell research does not satisfy the justice provision because it puts an unfair burden of the research on the embryo and gives the benefits to another group of society.



Is research conducted on "spare" embryos ethical and wouldn't that help people who are suffering from terrible diseases since these embryos are going to be discarded anyway?

Answer: The fact that spare embryos are going to be discarded does not escape the guiding principles of the National Research Act. The fact that they are going to be "tossed in the waste" does NOT change the fact that research on the embryo is violating the principles of autonomy, beneficence and justice. The critical bioethical principle is that the benefits of society from any research are supposed to be trumped by the autonomy and rights of the human subject, which in this case is the embryo. An analogy would be conducting human experiments on death row prisoners since they are going to be put to death. One could argue that conducting such research on prisoners could derive some societal good. History is full of examples of unethical biomedical research that have centered on situations in which scientists felt that the benefits of society were greater than the human subject, and those subjects were victims because they were the most vulnerable members of society like the mentally retarded, prisoners, and racial minorities.

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