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May 2015 Policy Study, Number 15-4


Embryonic Stem Cell Research Is Morally Wrong





Do stem cells have the same moral status as adult human beings? Some say that they do not because some adult humans are persons, while no embryonic humans are. However, if embryos have the same moral status as adult humans, then they ought to have the same moral rights that adult human beings have. If embryos do not, then they should not have the same moral rights, although they may still have some. Persons who have a moral status also have rights, which impose obligations on others and are possible to violate (even if they should not be) because they are like moral laws or duties.[1] Against considering the moral status of embryos as the same as adults, Richard Werner gives an analogical argument that supports embryonic stem cell research (ESCR). We will consider Werner’s position as representative of the common position and critique this. The analogical argument compares an embryo and a human being that is brain-dead.  The argument says that the two have the same moral status because both lack that which makes them a person, namely, rationality. 


In contrast, one may make the argument that ESCR is wrong because it ends the life of a human person. Because it is wrong to kill a person, it is also wrong to end the life of an embryo. Further, the rights of an adult human person, such as a right to life, ought to equally apply to embryos, and this means that ESCR is wrong because it takes away an embryo’s right to life.


This paper will analyze Werner’s arguments for embryonic stem cell research. Section one explains the metaphysical assumptions implicit in Werner’s view; section two explains his arguments; section three gives objections to Werner’s argument; section four raises some responses Werner would make to my arguments; section five answers Werner’s response; and section six concludes by summarizing what the problems are in Werner’s argument and why ESCR should not be done.




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