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Jack Sisson's Life Ethics Blog

We must find new ways through many ethical issues, especially regarding bioethics, medical ethics, and criminal justice. Jack Sisson's 'Life Ethics' blog focuses on numerous areas of concern, including the philosophical and ethical dilemmas surrounding stem-cell research, abortion, medical research, and health care.

As if the struggle to obtain government funding for embryonic stem-cell research wasn't already difficult enough, The Center for American Progress had this on March 1st:
Ongoing stem cell research and cloning debates in Kansas and other states highlight a new frontier in the stem cell debate: attempts to define scientific terms for political advantage.

The federal government’s inaction has left a void in overarching scientific guidelines and regulation. State-level opponents of stem cell research are trying to fill that void with altered scientific terminology that conflates human beings and embryos and overbroad definitions of human cloning. These efforts to politically define complicated biological terms often results in ill-conceived laws that satisfy neither opponents nor supporters, confuse scientists attempting to pursue research in the state, and may even create legal problems for those attempting to conduct cooperative studies across state lines.

Two recent bills passed out of committee in the Kansas House of Representatives are particularly egregious examples of the political manipulation of scientific terminology. Advocates of the first bill, H.B. 2098, claim it is an attempt “to define terms related to human cloning.” Yet in reality, it’s an attempt to politically redefine terms to help opponents of stem cell research.

The companion bill H.B. 2255 is a demonstration of just this strategy. Using identical definitions to those in H.B. 2098, the bill seeks to ban public funding for “human cloning to create a cloned embryo,” defined as SCNT.

Even ignoring the ban on funding for SCNT, which would subvert the will of the people of Kansas and prevent scientists in the state from pursuing cures with the best tools available, the bill is simply a poor piece of legislation. It defines an embryo as “the developing organism from the time of fertilization until significant differentiation has occurred, when the organism becomes known as a fetus or an organism in the early stages of development.” This definition, when considered alongside other references to the “human organism” in the bill, seems intended to blur the line between human beings and embryos.

Unfortunately, the vagueness of the definition also blurs the distinction between a fetus and an embryo. The legislation could be read as stripping away protections for what scientists consider an early stage fetus because it would legally be considered an embryo in Kansas. Certainly the proponents of this bill would not intend this effect, and neither opponents nor proponents of the legislation would condone weakening research protections for the fetus. But by relying on politics instead of science when defining technical terms, legislators may open the door to a whole host of unintended consequences, such as making fetuses more vulnerable to potentially harmful research.
Read the entire article here.

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