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Pluripotent Stem Cells: Medical Dream or Ethical Nightmare?

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Modern medicine has become the victim of its own success. While mortality due to infectious microorganisms has declined significantly among developed countries over the past 80 years, the unprecedented increase in life expectancy has been accompanied by an equally dramatic rise in the incidence of chronic and degenerative diseases. The scale of the medical challenges that an ageing population poses for healthcare in the 21st century will doubtless require radical solutions, of which the harnessing of pluripotency through the derivation of human embryonic stem (ES) cells represents a promising strategy: indeed, preliminary successes in prospective clinical trials of cell replacement therapy suggest that we may soon begin to reap the benefits of more than a decade of research into this elusive population of cells. Nevertheless, the ethical dilemma created by the wilful destruction of human embryos in order to access pluripotency, continues to cloud the field. This seminar will attempt to draw some general principles from the speaker’s personal journey of reconciling a deep Christian faith with the moral dilemmas raised by reproductive and stem cell and technologies. In particular, it will explore whether the destruction of human embryos can ever be justified by the magnitude of the likely benefits, whether the sanctioning of ES cell derivation might inadvertently create further ethical challenges, such as human therapeutic cloning, and whether the recent advent of induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells might offer an ethically-neutral way forward.

This talk is part of the The Faraday Institute for Science and Religion series.

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