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The Morality of Stem Cell Research Discussed on Campus


The Morality of Stem Cell Research
Discussed on Campus

Disagreement about the morality of stem cell research exists not only between the two most obvious groups—religious and secular—but within the Roman Catholic Church as well. A key point of contention among Catholics, according to Margaret Farley, Ph.D., a professor of Christian ethics at Yale University Divinity School, is the status of an embryo at fertilization.

“So much agreement on fundamental approaches to human morality, yet disagreement on specific moral rules, is not surprising,” said Farley, during a recent lecture at the William D. Walsh Family Library. “For one thing, affirmations of the goodness of creation, human freedom of agency, and principles of justice and care do not always yield directly deducible recommendations on specific questions like stem cell research.”

Yale Divinity School professor Margaret Farley, Ph.D. (left), pictured with Celia B. Fisher, Ph.D., director of the Fordham University Center for Ethics Education
Photo: Chris Taggart

Farley said Catholic opponents of embryonic stem cell research believe that an embryo has the same moral standing as a human person, hence the termination of the embryo when the stem cell is removed is wrong. They argue that an individual human person is created after fertilization because a new genetic code exists.

Others within the church do not consider the embryo a human person, stressing that conception is not a moment in time, but rather a continuous process that takes approximately 14 days.

“Neither side in this debate wants to sacrifice the Catholic tradition’s commitments to respect human life, promote human well-being and honor the sacred in created realities,” said Farley. “I believe the ongoing Roman Catholic conversation on all of these matters can be of assistance to others in a pluralistic society as long as it remains open to wider dialogue and respectful of all partners, while retaining its own integrity.”

Farley’s lecture, “Research on Stem Cells: Ethical Issues Regarding Derivation from Embryos,” was part of a series hosted by the Fordham University Center for Ethics in Education. The center was created in 1999 to promote high-quality teaching, research and service through intellectual appreciation of moral values and critical thinking about ethical practices.

— Michael Larkin

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