The Human Embryonic Stem Cell Debate: Science, Ethics, and Public Policy

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Human embryonic stem cells can divide indefinitely and have the potential to develop into many types of tissue. Research on these cells is essential to one of the most intriguing medical frontiers, regenerative medicine. It also raises a host of difficult ethical issues and has sparked great public interest and controversy.

This book offers a foundation for thinking about the many issues involved in human embryonic stem cell research. It considers questions about the nature of human life, the limits of intervention into human cells and tissues, and the meaning of our corporeal existence. The fact that stem cells may be derived from living embryos that are destroyed in the process or from aborted fetuses ties the discussion of stem cell research to the ongoing debates on abortion.

In addition to these issues, the essays in the book touch on broader questions such as who should approve controversial research and what constitutes human dignity, respect, and justice. The book contains contributions from the Ethics Advisory Board of the Geron Coroporation; excerpts from expert testimony given before the National Bioethics Advisory Commission, which helped shape recent National Institutes of Health policy; and original analytical essays on the implications of this research.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
As President Bush tries to make up his mind over the stem cell controversy, the issue remains headline news. The Human Embryonic Stem Cell Debate: Science, Ethics, and Public Policy, edited by social ethics academics Suzanne Holland, Karen Lebacqz and Laurie Zoloth and third in MIT's Basic Bioethics series edited by Glenn McGee and Arthur Caplan, gathers 20 essays by scholars (including the editors) of theology, biology, medicine, medical and bioethics, philosophy and other disciplines. Fran?oise Baylis discusses the National Bioethics Advisory Commission's recommendation that stem cell research be federally funded. Rabbi Elliott N. Dorff analyzes the debate through a Jewish theological lens. Thomas B. Okarma, president and CEO of Geron Corporation, a biotechnology corporation that initiated stem cell research in 1996, offers "A Primer on the Technology and Its Medical Applications." Others weigh in with Christian, Roman Catholic, historical, feminist, social justice and public policy perspectives. Three illus. Sept.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780262082990
  • Publisher: MIT Press
  • Publication date: 9/1/2001
  • Series: Basic Bioethics Series
  • Pages: 288
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.75 (d)

Meet the Author

Suzanne Holland is Assistant Professor of Religious and Social Ethics at University of Puger Sound.

Karen Lebacqz is Gordon Sproul Professor of Theological Ethics at the Pacific School of Religion and the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California.

Laura Zoloth is Professor of Social Ethics and Jewish Philosophy and Director of the Program in Jewish Studies at San Francisco State University.

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Read an Excerpt


This book captures some of the first foundational work surrounding the new and controversial discovery of human pluripotent stem cells. It is also an invitation to the reader to join a continuing dialogue that has broadened considerably and sparked strong public reaction.

When derivation of human pluripotent stem cells was announced in November 1998 it caught most of the scientific community and the public by surprise. Although work in animals had successfully isolated stem cells in a number of species, the search for human pluripotent stem cells seemed elusive at best. The simultaneous announcement of the isolation of human embryonic stem (hES) cells (Thomson et al. 1998) and human embryonic germ (hEG) cells (Shamblott et al. 1998) set off a storm of controversy. Forces quickly mobilized: President Clinton asked the National Bioethics Advisory Commission (NBAC) to undertake a thorough review of issues associated with stem cell research (NBAC 1999), religious leaders reiterated their opposition to creation of embryos for research or to destruction of embryos in research, and ethicists began to study the issues involved.

A Short History

We put this book together for several reasons, not the least of which is that, in one way or another, we have been engaged in the ethical debate surrounding this scientific breakthrough. In late 1996, representatives of a small private biotechnology company in Menlo Park, Geron Corporation, came to the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California, seeking conversation about the ethical dimensions of work they were about to undertake. All three editors of this volume were part of those early conversations. Two of us (Lebacqz and Zoloth) subsequently became members of the Geron Ethics Advisory Board (GEAB). As early participants in an intriguing and morally complex dialogue, we were sometimes apprised of scientific achievements before those achievements were widely know. Because research of both Thomson's and Gearhart's labs had been sponsored by Geron, for example, the GEAB knew of the forthcoming announcement of the derivation of human pluripotent stem cells before this discovery was common knowlege. We first learned about the hES cell and hEG cell research in August 1998, and we found ourselves hard pressed to sort through the ethical issues at stake in the scant few weeks before the public announcement. By September we had determined that all of us could support the research, and in October 1998 we adopted a set of minimal guidelines for the work. Those guidelines and an accompanying rationale were published in early 1999 along with some commentaries (GEAB 1999). We waited with anticipation for the NBAC, the American Academy for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), and other bodies with broader representation to enter the public debate and to revise, refine, or reject our work.

During spring of 1999, NBAC held public hearings on stem cell research and drafted its preliminary report, which was published in September of that year....

At the same time that NBAC was conducting its deliberations, the AAAS held a series of meetings in which ethical and scientific issues around stem cells were discussed and policy recommendations issued (Chapman et al. 1999). Zoloth and Lebacqz were involved in those meetings. In addition, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) conducted its own investigation into the legalities of permitting the use of federal funds for stem cell research (NIH 1999a) and began drafting guidelines for human pluripotent stem cell research (U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services [DHHS] 1999) that were made final in August 2000 (DHHS 2000). The immediate attention of so many prominent public bodies indicates the significance of this research...

Copyright 2001 Massachusetts Institute of Technology

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Table of Contents

I The Science and Background of Human Embryonic Stem Cells
1 Human Embryonic Stem Cells: A Primer on the Technology and Its Medical Applications, Thomas B. Okarma
2 Human Embryonic Stem Cells, James A. Thomson
3 The Stem Cell Debate in Historical Context, John C. Fletcher
II Raising the Ethical Issues
4 On the Ethics and Politics of Embryonic Stem Cell Research, Erik Parens
5 Human Embryonic Stem Cell Research: Comments on the NBAC Report, Françoise Baylis
6 NBAC’s Arguments on Embryo Research: Strengths and Weaknesses, John C. Fletcher
7 Beyond the Embryo: A Feminist Appraisal of the Embryonic Stem Cell Debate, Suzanne Holland
III Angles of Vision
8 Stem Cell Research—A Jewish Perspective, Elliot N. Dorff
9 The Ethics of the Eighth Day: Jewish Bioethics and Research on Human Embryonic Stem Cells, Laurie Zoloth
10 Roman Catholic Views on Research Involving Human Embryonic Stem Cells, Margaret A. Farley
11 Human Embryonic Stem Cells: Possible Approaches from a Catholic Perspective, Michael M. Mendiola
12 Embryonic Stem Cells and the Theology of Dignity, Ted Peters
13 Some Protestant Reflections, Gilbert Meilaender
14 On the Elusive Nature of Respect, Karen Lebacqz
15 Ethical Issues: A Secular Perspective, Ernlé W. D. Young
IV Public Discourse, Oversight, and the Role of Research in Society
16 From the Micro to the Macro, Thomas A. Shannon
17 “Expert Bioethics” as Professional Discourse: The Case of Stem Cells, Paul Root Wolpe and Glenn McGee
18 Stem Cells: Shaping the Future in Public Policy, Margaret R. McLean
19 Leaps and Boundaries: Expanding Oversight of Human Stem Cell Research, Cynthia B. Cohen
20 Jordan’s Banks: A View from the First Years of Human Embryonic Stem Cell Research, Laurie Zoloth Glossary

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 9, 2002

    Good Book to Get My Project Done

    This book help me get what I needed done. I think that this book could be a help to anyone who needed to do a report on this subject. For the price they are selling it at, it would be worth it just to have the book. You should always be up with todays world, and this book offers why the world and US is half mad and half excepting of this book. So buy this book just to have, becuase one day you might need it. Thanks you. Hi mom and dad.

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