Stem Cell Debate Calls for Rational Approach

A cell cannot have a soul, author argues

FRIDAY, May 16 (HealthDay News) -- The debate about the ethics of stem cell research, particularly in relation to the point at which an embryo is considered to have gained personhood, should be approached rationally, not on the basis of biblical dogma, according to a Views & Reviews article published in the May 17 issue of BMJ.

John Burn, M.D., of Newcastle University in Newcastle, U.K., writes that the process of examining medical research projects, conducted by the Medical Research Council in the United Kingdom, is so rigorous and strict that concerns about misuse of funds for unethical stem cell research are misplaced. However, such committees cannot answer the question of when human life begins, and therefore at what point stem cell research becomes "an assault on the sanctity of human life."

The author argues that the cells contained within the zygote only reach the point of becoming an embryo at 14 days, before which time they can initiate as many as five distinct embryos. Thus a soul could not be "delivered" within the first two weeks of conception.

"Just as protests about cadaver organ donation were addressed rationally and led to the widespread acceptance that the definition of death could no longer depend on biblical interpretation, so medical need dictates that the origin of human individuality must be defined with similar pragmatic precision. A cell cannot have a soul," the author concludes.

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