Although few people are familiar with the technicalities of human embryonic stem cell research, a large majority knows about its existence and most people even have an outspoken opinion about whether this research should or should not be pursued. The combination of great medical expectations and the instrumental use of embryos has proved to be an explosive mix as the stakes are raised tremendously high on either side of the debate. Both scientists and ethicists are forced to look for the best way to reconcile valuable research with the moral objections it generates. As shown in this dissertation, the necessary interaction between science and ethics has created a feedback-loop in which not only science is questioned or backed by ethics, but also the reverse.
This dissertation is a collection of articles. As such, it is not – nor does it aim to be – an exhaustive overview of the so-called stem cell debate and its ethical and scientific components. Rather than that, it focuses on a limited number of very specific issues and arguments within the debate, which are all shaped by the interaction of science and ethics. To clarify this interaction, the ethical arguments in scientific articles and the scientific arguments in ethical articles, reports and guidelines were studied for each of these specific issues. After this descriptive phase, both scientific and ethical arguments were used in an effort to reach a (broad) reflective equilibrium concerning the issues at hand. Specifically, moral judgements and intuitions regarding the moral status of the human embryo, oocyte donation for research purposes, embryonic stem cell derived gametes and the role of stem cell regulation were confronted with basic principles (principles of beneficence, non-maleficence, justice, and autonomy, but also the proportionality principle, separation principle et cetera) and general ethical theories. In some articles this method was supplemented with consideration for legal principles, biological concepts and philosophical reflections.