stem-cell-nancy-reaganThe use of stem cell and fetal tissue for contemporary medical research is a complicated moral issue. The decision as to whether or not to allocate federal funds to stem cell research should not be dictated by religious beliefs.

Human pluripotent stem cells, more commonly known as ÔÇ£stem cells,ÔÇØ are derived through two different methods. One method uses early stage embryos in excess of clinical need and donated by women undergoing in vitro fertilization. The other method isolates stem cells from aborted fetuses.

Stem cells have the ability to divide for an indefinite period in culture and can develop into most of the specialized cells and tissues of the body such as muscle cells, nerve cells, liver cells and blood cells. The use of stem cells has far-reaching possibilities including ÔÇ£cell therapies.ÔÇØ Stem cells stimulated to develop into specialized cells could be used to treat diseases such as ParkinsonÔÇÖs, AlzheimerÔÇÖs, spinal cord injuries, stroke, burns, heart disease and diabetes. Using stem cells could reduce the dependency on organ donation and transplantation.

The moral issues raised by stem cell research differ, depending on whether the cells come from aborted fetuses or embryos resulting from in vitro fertilization that are no longer needed for infertility treatment.

The ethical acceptability of deriving stem cells from the tissue of aborted fetuses is closely connected to the morality of abortion. Research using stem cells obtained from human embryos poses moral difficulties that do not exist in the case of fetal tissue.

POLICY RECOMMENDATION: Government policy on the use of stem cells for medical research should be based on scientific and medical research, with discussions of shared values free of sectarian influence.