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Ethical paradigm: Relating embryonic stem cell use to organ donation

Embryonic death and the creation of human embryonic stem cells

JCI Journals

The conflict over allowing the creation of embryonic stem cells for therapeutic purposes pits the value of early human life against that of potentially life-saving therapies. This has deeply polarized each side of the argument, ultimately resulting in an arena that disregards common interest or points of view. Donald Landry and Howard Zucker, of the University of Columbia, now offer a commentary that presents a potential means for creating common ground in this debate. The authors propose applying the ethics and standards of organ donation, which has a long history of debate, legal definition, and ethical resolution, to that of embryonic cell use. Landry and Zucker detail the development of laws and practices surrounding the establishment of the definition of death for a fully developed human. At the point that brain function is irretrievably lost, even if other cells and organs remain alive, humans are considered organismically dead. At this time organs and tissues may be harvested as needed and allowed by . The authors propose a similar mechanism might be used for embryonic cells. At this stage, however, no definition for death has been defined for unformed humans. The authors highlight the point that many embryos created for in vitro fertilization are not used because they are unable to properly produce a fetus due to inherent genetic or mechanical defects. These embryos, however, often contain some normal cells that, while unable to create a fully formed human, can be donated for use. The arguments defined by Landry and Zucker are laid out with historical background both on the history of organ donation and in vitro fertilization. The commentary offers a potential path for both sides of the embryonic stem cell argument to follow to common ground in the discussion for determining an ethically and medically sound future for stem cell research.


TITLE: Embryonic death and the creation of human embryonic stem cells

AUTHOR CONTACT: Donald W. Landry
Columbia University, 630 West 168th St, New York, NY 10032, USA
Phone: 212-305-2436; Fax: 212-305-3475; E-mail:

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