The Cultural Push Towards Moral Stem Cell Harvesting

Whether you’re Christian, Buddhist, Hindu, or even an atheist, the vast majority of people

in the world would agree that murder is an immoral act. It is funny however that despite every

school of thought sharing in this moral code, not a single religion can come to an agreement on

what murder is. Every man, woman, and child in the world knows that to take a life is a sin, and

yet, what does it mean to even have a life to take? The Merriam-Webster dictionary has nearly

twenty definitions of “life” alone. Each definition varies ever so slightly and caries different

connotations in terms of what might and might not be murder. There are many religious

organizations that have attacked stem cell research as murder over the years but are the

allegations true? The short answer is no. The recent increase in liberalized research policies that

are now sanctioned by religious leaders across the world, suggests that embryonic harvesting is

Recently, “Numerous nations, states, cultures, and religious traditions have considered it

important to review their policies and moral judgments on human embryo research” (Walters 4).

Our society is evolving. And with the advent of technology, ancient ideals and values must now

be reassessed in order to figure out what is right and wrong for modern times. People of

Buddhist and Hindu faith now openly recognize the importance of embryonic stem cell research

because they view it’s morality as a question of intention (Walters 22-24). Because

scientists “intend” for their stem cell research to one day save thousands of lives, Buddhists and

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some Hindu now believe that harvesting embryos can be okay to some degree. According

to “Human Embryonic Research: An Intercultural Perspective”, Buddhists forbid causing harm

to other living creatures and promote love and compassion towards all life. Though they

recognize that an embryo has the potential to become a new person, they also recognize the

possibility that stem cells could save the lives of many others who have already been born. They

use this to justify their acceptance of embryonic harvesting. The caveat however, is that

Buddhists only recognize harvesting as a moral act of inquiry if it is non-profitable. Hindus have

also begun accepting the use of embryos as research material as long as they are less than

fourteen days old. This is because it is unclear when a fetus is imbued with the qualities of life so

only extremely young embryos are permissible to use.

Like the Hindu people, Islamic and Jewish religious leaders now support the usage of

embryonic stem cells as viable research material as long as the embryos are considered young

(Walters 20-22). For the Islamic people, the age is fourteen days, and for the Jewish community,

the cut off seems to be around forty. The reason for this is that many religions have begun taking

it upon themselves to define when an embryo or fetus develops enough to deserve moral

consideration. The Koran does not offer an indication of when this moral consideration is

developed and neither do the Jewish religious texts but that hasn’t stopped rabbis or Islamic

leaders from drawing a line where they believe life begins. The general consensus between these

two religions is that stem cell harvesting can be moral and especially so if the cells are taken

while the embryo is still a blastocyst (five day old clump of cells). The amount of cells lost is

comparable to that of a scraped knee that has bled.

Over the past decade, some of the most socially conservative religions have become more

open to the idea that stem cell research could be moral. Catholics for example, now have an all-

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time high of dissenters among themselves who disagree with the current church’s view that stem

cell harvesting is tantamount to abortion. During the most recent NBAC conference, all three

catholic representatives were in disagreement on whether or not stem cell usage was moral

(Walters 26). One of the representatives went so far as to openly dissent from the church during

the conference and argue for the morality of HESC research. This behavior suggests that the

church is fundamentally changing as a whole. The days of conservative group thought are gone

and as more and more people talk openly about the moral implications of stem cell research,

more Catholics seem to become supporters of it. Protestants and Eastern Orthodox sects of

Christianity have also garnered a following of liberal dissenters over the years but to a lesser

degree (or they are at least less vocal about it).

As more democratic countries without authoritarian rulers begin welcoming stem cell

research, the argument for immorality becomes less and less valid. Democracies are designed to

foster the development of moral policies. Because they are built with checks and balances in

mind, democratic people have historically been protected from immoral decisions. If embryonic

stem cell research was truly immoral, then the world would be slowly banning the research

instead of what is actually happening. Take slavery for instance. Though America initially

passed laws protecting slavery, these laws were eventually chipped away over the years as the

nation become more democratic. According to the Kennedy Institute of Ethics however, both

western and eastern cultures have begun adopting the research methods more frequently which

indicates that people find stem cells more moral than immoral than ever before. This social

progression is a clue as to what is right and wrong.

Because of the new surge of acceptance for embryonic stem cell research by religious

leaders, many countries have begun adopting pro-research policies in the hopes of developing

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new industries for the economy. These countries include the U.K., Sweden, India, China, Israel,

Australia, and Singapore. This capitalistic development again suggests that people will be less

likely to find this type of research immoral in the future. By taking a historical point of view

again, it is easy to see that when a country begins adopting ethically questionable material into

its economy, said county’s denizens eventually become socialized to be more comfortable with

the material itself. Pornography for example used to be considered highly immoral but now we

can go to any news kiosk at the super market and find pictures of scantily clad models that

would’ve been considered pornographic two hundred years ago. It is reasonable to predict that

the view of embryonic stem cell research might change similarly. As we become more

accustomed around stem cell technology in our culture, we will likely stop questioning it all

together and it will eventually be a socially acceptable method of inquiry for the next generation

According to “Law, Science, And Innovation: The Embryonic Stem Cell Controversy”,

many Americans argue that having embryos for the sole existence of research is tantamount to

abortion. These people “see destruction of embryos, like abortion of fetuses, as murder — as a

sacrifice of the weakest among us for the interests of others” (Robertson 192). Though it is true

that the embryo must be destroyed in order to extract a viable stem cell line, there is still the

question of using embryos that were regularly going to be discarded anyways. Whether they are

left over from artificial insemination procedures or are from some other studies, there are many

embryos not destined to ever become people. The question then becomes, “Is harvesting from

these embryos still abortion if they never had a life to take?” Not only that, but many Americans

argue that the potential for life is life but no moral consideration has ever been given to the

billions of wasted sperm and egg cells that people produce each year. The argument that all

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embryos are living is a fallible one because not all embryos are intended for birth such as not all

sperm is intended to become a child. Embryos are technically alive, but then again, so are eggs

and sperm. If they are fundamentally the same, then we should either accept that some embryos

are viable research material or we should stop condoning masturbation because then that too

is “wasting” lives. Eastern orthodox Christians also concede that existing stem cell lines already

exist and should not be wasted.

“Father Demopulos noted that “Wishing that something had not been done will not undo

It. Established embryonic stem cell lines exist, and their use has great potential benefits for

humanity . . . .” He argued that the existing lines should be used “only therapeutically, to restore

health and to prevent premature death”” (Walters 29)

This view seems to fall in line with the idea that we should make the most of what we

have. Even though a large portion of the world is still against stem cell research, we shouldn’t

ignore the resources that we already have in possession. Here religious leaders are liberalizing

their old beliefs by making compromises.

As more countries and religions begin accepting embryonic stem cell research as a

moral act of inquiry, it becomes clearer that it was moral all along. Societies are always moving

forward in innovative ways and if history is indicative of anything, it’s that over time, we always

come to the right conclusion. Democracies push us to question what is right and wrong in our

society. We either push ideas in or out and the trend goes that if an idea is being pushed in, it is

usually the more moral option. For this reason it can be concluded that stem cell research is

likely moral because that is the direction the world taking it.

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One Response to The Cultural Push Towards Moral Stem Cell Harvesting

  1. bolanosc says:

    oops, sorry guys. I didn’t read through what I copied. My VUnetID might show up randomly in the paper because it was part of the header

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