Currently, embryonic stem cells (ESCs) ,found in human blastula, are researched for their possible use as a regenerative medicine. However, some people believe it is wrong to destroy these human embryos for its cells because they consider it to be destroying an unborn child. Others see no problem with this stem cell collection. They do not consider the blastula as a child because it is unable to develop into a child without being embedded in the uterus wall. The utilitarian approach to the situation suggests that it is morally sound to continue research on ESCs thanks to the potential good it may bring to the general population through stem cell therapy.
The controversy surrounding stem cell research is due to two conflicting moral principles: the duty to respect the value of human life and the duty to alleviate and prevent human suffering (Hug). In order to obtain embryonic stem cells for research, the blastula must be destroyed, “destroying a potential human life” (Hug). Thus, the ambiguous moral status of the human embryo has become an ethical dilemma. Those that believe it is wrong to continue ESC research argue that though the embryo lacks development, it remains a future human, and should thus “be given the respect and dignity of a person” (Hug). In addition, they argue that the life lived by the embryo “has a value to the embryo itself”, suggesting that the embryo values its own existence, and that we do not have the right to judge whether it lives or dies. In contrast, others that are in favor of ESC research argue that the early embryo lacks the “psychological, emotional or physical properties that we associate with being a person” (Hug), thus excluding the blastula from having a moral status and protection. It should then, be used for the benefit of others through ESC research.
Utilitarianism, an ethical framework emphasizing the “importance of means and ends” (Merril), suggests that the morally sound action in this case is to continue research on embryonic stem cells. Though it may cause harm to the individuals, utilitarianism seeks to obtain “the greatest happiness to the greatest number” (Merril), all the while avoiding pain in all its forms. In this case, assuming that embryos do not have a moral status, it is the morally good action to research ESCs in order to develop medicine that can alleviate the pain of many, thus providing happiness. Even if we assume that embryos do have moral status, they are unable to feel pain because they lack a nervous system. Thus, in order to bring about the greatest good, it is morally sound to use these cells for research because the action does not cause any pain, all the while bringing a potential good.
In summary, utilitarianism offers a solution to the ethical dilemma caused by embryonic cell research. While seeking a new form of treatment for the general population, embryonic cell research does not bring pain to the early embryo and is thus the action more likely to bring about the greater good. In its quest for general happiness, the utilitarian approach suggests that embryonic stem cell research is the morally sound option.
Hug, Kristina. “Embryonic stem cell research: an ethical dilemma.” EuroStemCell, 2018, https://www.eurostemcell.org/embryonic-stem-cell-research-ethical-dilemma.
Meril, John C. “Overview: Theoretical Foundations for Media Ethics,” 3-32 in A. David Gordon, John M Kittross, John C Merril, William Babcock, and Micheal Dorsher (eds.), Controversises in Media Ethics, 3rd Edition (New York: Routledge, 2011)