State Neutrality and Stem Cell Policy


Dov Fox

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In 2001, President Bush announced a new policy to govern the federal funding of embryonic stem cell research. That policy subsidized research on the sixty existing stem-cell lines, thereby promoting, on the one hand, secular values of scientific progress and integrity. But it also withheld funding for research on the hundreds of thousands of unused embryos whose stem cells had not already been harvested, thereby promoting, on the other hand, that value of respect which holds that if potential life can still be saved, then it should not be destroyed even to serve very noble goals that are at odds with its own development into a born person.

This Article uses the Bush Administration's stem cell policy to examine the argument that society can express a moral attitude of respect human embryos by permitting or even promoting certain kinds of conduct that destroys it. People of diverse worldviews would agree that it disrespects the embryo to destroy it for trivial purposes like producing cosmetics, or even perhaps for teaching high school biology. The more difficult question that stem cell research presents is whether and to what extent it disrespects embryos to destroy them for a weightier purpose like seeking to relieve human suffering and loss of life. I argue that the answer to this question depends on the therapeutic benefit of research that destroys embryos relative to the benefit of available research that does not.