Short Answer Questions
- How and why is a pluripotent stem cell more useful for therapy than a normal skin cell?
- How were pluripotent stem cells originally collected, and how is this different from how we collect induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells?
- How do Douglas and Savulescu view the permissibility of destroying 'wanted' and 'unwanted' embryos?
For Further Discussion
- The significance of stem cells. (Questions about what they're good for, and what we currently still have to do to get them.)
- What is the promise of stem cells? What are they good for in therapeutic terms, and why are they so exciting?
- There is a minority in the UK, but a very vocal minority, that has traditionally been strongly against stem cell research. Why?
- On destroying embryos. Douglas and Savulescu discuss a number of interesting thought experiments to probe the permissibility of destroying unwanted embryos.
- The refrigerator example. A refrigerator full of embryos is about to crush a small child, who can only be saved by destroying the refrigerator. Do we do it? Is this example relevant? Why?
- Transplant examples. There is a thought that whether or not you are conscious and have certain mental properties matters for your moral status. (And, since embryos don't have consciousness, they don't have the appropriate moral status.) Suppose your brain was transplanted into a sheep, or a robot. Would you retain the same moral status? Is this a relevant example as far as embryos are concerned?
- Utilitarianism. Embryos are known not to experience pleasure or pain. Does this bear on whether or not it is permissible to destroy them? What, if anything, should we conclude on this basis?
- Treating embryos as a mere means. There is a sense in which just creating embryos to be destroyed for research might be viewed as wrong, in that the embryos are being treated as a "mere means"; and none of them have a chance to be treated as an ends in and of themselves. (This is a Kantian 'deontological' complaint.) Suppose we randomly selected a few of every set of research embryos to be donated to infertile couples. Is this enough to assuage the complaint? Why or why not?
- Zacharias et al. argue that stem cell research on embryos is justifiable "only if no less morally problematic alternatives are available." We are currently at a transitionary stage, in which less controversial means may become available, but their status is not yet clear. Do you agree with Zacharias et al.? Is there reason to do stem cell research on embryos now? If it is always easier or more cost-effective this way, is there reason to do embryonic stem cell research even when there are alternatives (like iPS cells) available?
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