FIM, The Foundation for Innovation in Medicine, Proposes a New
Morally Acceptable Approach For The Use Of Embryonic Stem and Fetal
Cells for Research Purposes
The Moral Dilemma of Embryonic Stem and Fetal Cell Research: A Proposed Solution
Stephen L. DeFelice, M.D.
Nuclear transplantation, embryonic blastocyst stem cells, fetal
cells, be they embryonic or adult stem cells, and adult stem cells from
adults: All offer enormous promise to rid us of diseases that rob us of
the joy of life and even life, itself. Which type of cell offers the
greatest promise? No one knows at this point in our early research
phases, and it will take time to find out. Because, however, of the
magnitude of the medical promise, it is morally imperative that we press
forward with our research efforts without undue delay.
It is postulated, with solid reasoning to support it, that the
blastocyst embryonic cells are the most promising ones because they are
still young enough to be totipotent having the miraculous capacity to
create all the biologic systems required for the creation of a newborn
The other cell types are thought to be more differentiated or
pluripotent making them less capable of generating the natural therapies
needed to attack disease. There is a reason to believe, however, that
some fetal cells may also be totipotent.
Since embryonic and fetal cells offer great promise in the battle
against disease, it is mandatory to address the moral objections against
Objections to using embryonic stem and fetal cells for research
purposes have to do with murder, not necessarily with killing. But the
definition of murder is dependent on the particular circumstance. For
example, killing another person in self-defense is not murder.
There is, I believe, a specific circumstance in which the use of such embryonic stem and fetal cells for research is not murder.
Women with serious medical problems undergo hysterectomies. Not
uncommonly, they are in various phases of pregnancy at the time of their
hysterectomies. Embryonic and fetal cells are present in these cases.
Women also undergo abortion in early pregnancy with the same
embryonic stem and fetal cells available. There is, however, a clear and
distinct moral difference between the two situations regarding the use
of such cells for research purposes.
The uterus is the life-support system of the embryo and fetus. Once
removed via hysterectomy, the uterus is no longer capable of supplying
nature's life-sustaining substances to the embryo and fetus. Neither,
therefore, is viable any longer.
An analogy to a non-viable embryo or fetus is the brain-dead
patient in irreversible coma whose life is totally dependent on a
medically delivered life-support system. It is generally morally
acceptable to remove the life-support system because the patient, like
the hysterectomized embryo or fetus, is no longer a "viable person". The
act of removing life support is not, therefore, considered murder. Even
Pope Paul II, a fervent supporter of the sanctity of life, in his
encyclical letter, Evangelium Vitae, writes that life support systems can morally be terminated in certain conditions, "When death is imminent and inevitable."
When an abortion is performed, the uterus or life-support system
remains intact. This is comparable to the removal of a life-support
system from a patient who still has the mental and physical ability to
function as a person.
I propose that medical centers that specialize in the isolation and
maintenance of embryonic stem and fetal cells obtained from
hysterectomies be licensed to make them available for research purposes.
Guidelines should be established under which these institutions would
I have communicated with a number of sincere and impressively
intelligent people on both sides of the murder and non-murder debate.
Those that hold to the belief that stem and fetal cell research are
issues of science and reason alone have forgotten the lessons of
Science, in itself, is amoral. Newton's theory of gravity has
nothing to do with heaven or hell. It is in the applications of science
that the issue of morality arises. Controlling this issue, morality, is
the function of the society in which we live.
Take nuclear weapons as an example: Linus Pauling and Albert
Einstein feared that the application of nuclear technology would lead to
the nuclear bomb and a worldwide holocaust. And they were correct in
their belief. As we know too well today, a simple order from the leader
of a country with nuclear bombs to push a button or two could make
Dante's Inferno a reality instead of an epic poem.
Those that hold that a legitimate medically indicated hysterectomy
for a potentially fatal disease in a pregnant woman is morally
unacceptable, I believe, have employed the use of reasoning beyond its
legitimate limits to justify such a conclusion. Indeed, the main
conclusion of the so-called Age of Reasoning is that the over dependence
on reasoning leads us to a moral vacuum. The brilliant David Hume,
perhaps the greatest intellect of that era, concluded that we cannot
know anything. But he used reason to arrive at this conclusion!
There are more important "other ways" beyond the use of scrupulous
reasoning by which we make judgements about life and morality.
Tradition, religion, wisdom culled from life's daily experiences both
within and without the family are some of the essential foundations of
the vast majority of life's held values. Love, respect and fairness come
from these rich sources of experience and not from simple syllogistic
reasoning starting from a tabula rasa.
I've attempted to use common sense reasoning to make the point of
the moral differences between hysterectomized and non-hysterectomized
embryonic and fetal tissue for research purposes. But I have also turned
to that "other way" to help make my judgement.
For example, if a man whose spouse is in a fatal coma and knows
full well that an embryonic stem or fetal cell-derived therapy developed
from hysterectomized embryo or fetal cells in her physician's syringe
would bring her back to normal health, yet would refuse that his loved
one receive such therapy, it is important to honestly ask the question,
"Who, in such an instance, would be the "murderer?"