The Moral Status of the Embryo

Harvard Magazine

The Moral Status of the Embryo

Is a blastocyst—an early-stage human embryo—a person? As part of the University’s efforts to encourage public dialogue about stem-cell research, the Harvard Stem Cell Institute (HSCI), in conjunction with Harvard Divinity School (HDS) and the Boston Theological Institute, sponsored a March 14 forum, “Religious Perspectives on Stem-Cell Research,” which centered on this fundamental question. Moderated by Philip Clayton, a visiting professor of science and religion, the forum featured four panelists representing the three Abrahamic faiths: Eric Cohen, executive director of the Tikvah fund (a foundation devoted to Jewish ideas and culture) and a consultant to the President’s Council on Bioethics; Omar Sultan Haque, a Muslim theologian currently studying at HDS and Harvard Medical School (HMS); professor John Davis of the Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, an evangelical Christian theologian ordained in the Presbyterian church; and the Reverend Doctor Llewellyn Smith, B.D. ’67, of Andover Newton Theological School, a Congregational minister in the United Church of Christ (UCC). (HSCI faculty members M. William Lensch and Jerome Ritz attended as well to provide scientific input and clarification.)

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Stem Cell Wars: The Cultural and Ideological Bases

Jeffrey E. Horvitz


Why has stem cell research been singled out of many stunning advances in this, the Golden Age of biology and medicine? Why is there such a tempest in a Petri dish?

The stem cell fight is a footnote to what looks to be a lengthy period of Wars of Religion – like the 16th century – which will go on for decades. The conflict is also a manifestation of a collision of ideological themes – themes with very long histories in America.

In this, the 21st century’s Wars of Religion, there are two battle fronts. The first is being fought in the mountains of Afghanistan, the deserts of Iraq, the subways in London, and the skyscrapers of Manhattan. These are the wars between Islam and most of the world’s major religions; Judaism, Christianity, and Hinduism.

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Connecticut Legislature committed 100 million dollars to embryonic stem cell research


History was made in Connecticut this week. Nearly three dozen stem cell scientists were awarded public funds to conduct embryonic stem cell research. This puts Connecticut in a leadership position in stem cell research in the U.S.

In 2005, Connecticut Governor Jodi Rell and the Connecticut Legislature committed 100 million dollars to embryonic stem cell research over a ten year period.

In response, Connecticut scientists were able to apply for funds to support stem cell research not currently fundable by federal dollars.

Senator Don Williams, President Pro Tem of the Connecticut Senate, appointed me to the Connecticut Stem Cell Advisory Committee in June, 2006. The task before this committee was to steer the process of launching Connecticut’s stem cell research efforts.

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New Battle Lines Are Drawn Over Egg Donation

Los Angeles Times – By Lee Romney, Times Staff Writer

SAN FRANCISCO — Should a woman be allowed to sell her eggs?

The question had never triggered much debate in the private world of fertility medicine, where Ivy League women can earn tens of thousands of dollars per “donation.”

But it seems everything about stem cell research is political.

A spirited disagreement over payment has split feminists, with some calling compensation to research subjects coercive and others contending that banning it is paternalistic.

The dispute has prompted some abortion rights organizations to line up on the issue with conservative Christian groups that oppose embryonic stem cell research.

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City seeks to lure stem cell labs

Somerville Journal – By David L. Harris/ Journal Staff

With the encouragement of a little-known stem cell research lab, Somerville’s going all-out in its bid to attract more cutting edge biotech companies.

“The mayor said, ’What, you’re kidding?” said Ann A. Kiessling, the director of Davis Square-based Bedford Stem Cell Research Foundation, when she recently told him they exist. “Now’s the time. Everything has now fallen into place.”
Kiessling, a Harvard-affiliated researcher, has maintained the Bedford Foundation’s location on Elm Street, not far from Redbones, Starbucks and The Burren, since 1998. Since 2000, Kiessling and fellow researchers have been successfully replicating monkey, cow and mouse eggs trying to eventually use unfertilized eggs to develop human stem cells.

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Donor Payments and Stem Cell Research

WBUR By Allan Coukell

Boston – January 31, 2006 – When the recent scandal over fraudulent stem cell research in South Korean unfolded, the first allegation was that women had been illegally coerced and had been paid for donating their eggs to research.

The South Korean research has since been totally disgraced.

Now some scientists here are worried that new restrictions on payments to egg donors in Massachusetts may make local stem cell research more difficult.

Ethics, Eggs and Embryos

Newsweek, By Claudia Kalb

Kim Barnett would do anything to help her dad. Already, she’s changed careers. That move came after Barnett noticed her father, who has Parkinson’s, drooling on an airplane in 2001. The disease had hijacked his instinct to swallow—and it devastated Barnett, who worried that outsiders would notice only the symptom, not the smart, funny man she loved. Within two years Barnett had given up her job as an educational consultant to head up the Parkinson Association of the Rockies. Today she says she’d do something far more personal to battle the disease: she’d donate her own biological eggs to stem-cell research. “It’s important to keep the advances going,” says Barnett, 35. “I’m a blood donor and an organ donor. I don’t see donating eggs as anything different.”

For months, politicians have been battling over the ethics of using embryos stored in fertility clinics for stem-cell research. But scientists aren’t setting their sights on embryos alone—they want eggs, too. The purpose: somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT), a complex technique that merges eggs (whose nuclei have been removed) with adult cells to create specialized embryonic-stem-cell lines. Last month South Korean researchers announced they’d nailed SCNT, also known as therapeutic cloning, with the help of 18 egg donors; now U.S. scientists want to get going, too. They believe SCNT will allow them to study the origins of disease, hunt for cures and create genetically matched repair cells for patients. Soon, women like Barnett could become biological pioneers in the next frontier of stem-cell science.

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An Open Letter To Senator Orrin Hatch from 126 Stem Cell Scientists

This landmark letter was signed by 126 stem cell scientists at the International Society for Stem Cell Research meeting in San Francisco. (Download PDF)

Dear Senator Hatch,

We are a group of U.S. and international scientists who thank you for your leadership in supporting stem cell research. Stem Cell therapy holds the promise of cures for diseases which afflict up to half of all Americans: spinal cord injury, Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s, heart failure and diabetes, to name a few. What is new is the ability to produce billions of pluripotent stem cells in the laboratory, and direct them to replace damaged cells in tissues that do not have their own supply, such as the spinal cord, the brain and the heart.

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Dr. Kiessling Interviewed on NPR

WBUR Radio

BOSTON (2005-03-31) In the debate on stem cell legislation, there’s been little discussion about the impact on the women who donate eggs for research. Some women’s health advocate argue that the safety of producing multiple eggs can’t be assured. But many doctors say women have much to gain on this new medical frontier.

The Stem Cell Research Discussion

The Exchange on New Hampshire Public Radio, Laura Knoy

October 13, 2004: The science and politics of embryonic stem cell research. A complex, biological, ethical and medical issue has now become political. We’ll find out what’s being said. And, behind all the rhetoric, how much promise this research may – or may not – hold.

Laura’s guests are Ann Kiessling, Associate Professor of Surgery at Harvard Medical School and Director of the Bedford Stem Cell Research Foundation and Eric Cohen, Consultant to the President’s Council on Bioethics, Editor of The New Atlantis and Director of the Biotechnology and American Democracy Program at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington.