Embryonic Stem Cell Research

One Small Step for Science or One Giant Leap Back for Mankind?

At the forefront of modern debate over the ethical use of biotechnol-ogy is embryonic stem cell research. In this poignant analysis of its legitimacy, the author examines the history of this research in light of the United States’ policy favoring the protection of human beings over scien-tific progress. Stem cells, which can divide in culture to create special-ized cells in the human body, possess significant potential for curing dis-ease, particularly when taken from human embryos. However, as evidenced by the research atrocities committed under the Nazi regime, the benefits of human research do not come without a cost to humanity. Recognizing this, the later trial of these scientists produced the Nurem-berg Code, a set of natural law principles guiding future research on hu-mans that continues to influence health policy decisions. Drawing on this background, the author first considers the appropriate legal status for a human embryo. Biologically, the characteristics of a human embryo place it between human tissue and a constitutional person. Judicially, the answer is even less clear. The author analyzes case law in the context of abortion and in vitro fertilization, as well as classifications by the common law, state legislation, and the National Bioethics Advisory Commission, to conclude that a human embryo should be subject to the same legal and ethical restrictions as any other “human subject.” Accordingly, the author argues that embryonic stem cell research violates the ethical standards and purpose of the Nuremberg Code and should be banned by federal legislation. Such a prohibition will fulfill the societal policy choice of protecting potential life and vulnerable human subjects.

The full text of this Note is available to download as a PDF.