Summary of Søren Holm’s Article
Søren Holm’s paper, “Going to the Roots of the Stem Cell Controversy,” is a result of the project the author heads at the Section for Medical Ethics in the University of Oslo. It is based on the premise that new scientific possibilities, particularly researches concerning stem cells, have elicited a number of ethical, legal and social debates. In an attempt to understand the issues, the article provides a scientific background on the core of such disagreements. Moreover, the goal of the project is to assess whether the aforementioned issues should affect decisions about regulation and funding of the research programs.
The three scientific developments that seem to trigger the current debates about stem cell research are the following: a) discovery of methods to derive and culture human embryonic stem cells (ESCs), b) the discovery of nuclear replacement techniques, and c) the discovery of new and previously unsuspected possibilities of stem cells in the adult human body. Holm tries to give a balanced view of the stem cell research by presenting both the expected benefits and the problems that may arise when such activity is put on trial. Holm introduced the stem cell as a non-differentiated cell that can divide and multiply in its undifferentiated state, but can also give rise to more specialized differentiated cells. It is in this exact definition of the stem cell that its supposed benefits are derived, i.e. various treatments like bone marrow and skin transplants. The possibility of replacing lost cell types due to disease or to grow whole organs for transplants motivate researchers to look into the therapeutic potential of stem cells to improve the quality of life. However, the problem lies in the development of these stem cells. After presenting several cases, Holm proposed a hierarchy in the mode of development of the stem cells starting with the most contentious one to the least problematic one: ESCs created by nuclear replacement > ESCs from embryos created for research > ESCs from spare embryos > adult stem cells. This hierarchy as Holm stated is not very illuminating for ethical analysis, but may influence public policymaking.
Holm generally focused on the developmental aspect of ESCs as argument in the existing debates. If the issues are to be dissected further, there are more argumentative aspects in the stem cell research that are left to be addressed. Hopefully, policies and regulations will be implemented in order to maximize the therapeutic potential of stem cell research and at the same time protect the individuals involved in such program, whether they are the researchers, donors, patients or policymakers.
Holm S. “Going to the Roots of the Stem Cell Controversy”. Bioethics 2002; 16:493-507.