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Secondly, stem cells are pluripotent, with the propensity to be induced to become specified tissue or any “organ-specific cells with special functions” depending on exposure to experimental or physiologic conditions, as well as undergo cell division and become cell tissue for different organs.The origin of stem cells themselves encapsulates the controversy: embryonic stem cells, originate from the inner cell mass of a blastocyst, a 5-day pre-implantation embryo.
Proponents argue that a human embryo lacks these criteria, thereby is not considered a person and thus, does not have life and cannot have a moral status.
Supporters of stem cell research believe a fertilized egg is just a part of another person’s body until the cell mass can survive on its own as a viable human.
Some ethicists attempt to determine what or who is a person by “setting boundaries” (Baldwin & Capstick, 2007).
Utilizing a functionalist approach, supporters of embryonic stem cell research argue that to qualify as a person, the individual must possess several indicators of personhood, including capacity, self-awareness, a sense of time, curiosity, and neo-cortical function.
However, since the “zygote is genetically identical to the embryo,” which is also genetically identical to the fetus, and, by extension, identical to the baby, inquiring the beginning of personhood can lead to an occurrence of the Sorites paradox, also acknowledged as “the paradox of the heap.” The paradox of the heap arises from vague predicates in philosophy.
If there is a heap of sand and a grain is taken away from that heap one by one, at what point will it no longer be considered a heap – what classifies it as a heap? When, in the development of a human being, is an embryo considered a person with moral standing?
Therefore, under this feeble utilitarian approach, stem cell research proceeds at the expense of human life than at the expense of personhood.
One can reject the asserted utilitarian approach to stem cell research as a reductionist view of life because the argument fails to raise ethical concerns regarding the destruction embryonic life for the possibility of developing treatments to end certain diseases.
The complexity of the ethics of embryonic stem cell research, like the Sorites paradox, demonstrates there is no single, correct way to approach a problem; thus, there may be multiple different solutions that are acceptable.
Whereas the definition of personhood cannot be completely resolved on a scientific basis, it serves a central role in the religious, political, and ethical differences within the field of embryonic stem cell research.