Moral status of embryonic stem cells: perspective of an African villager

Bioethics. 2007 Oct;21(8):449-57. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-8519.2007.00582.x.


One of the most important as well as most awesome achievements of modern biotechnology is the possibility of cloning human embryonic stem cells, if not human beings themselves. The possible revolutionary role of such stem cells in curative, preventive and enhancement medicine has been voiced and chorused around the globe. However, the question of the moral status of embryonic stem cells has not been clearly and unequivocally answered. Taking inspiration from the African adage that 'the hand that reaches beneath the incubating hen is not guiltless', I attempt answering this question, from the background of traditional African moral sensibility and sensitivity. I reach the following conclusions. Stem cells in themselves do not have human status and therefore lack moral worth/value. Embryos do have human status and a morally significant line cannot be drawn between human embryos and other human beings. What is morally at stake in stem cell research is therefore the question of the source of derivation or generation of the cells, not of the cells as such.

MeSH terms

  • Africa
  • Biotechnology / ethics*
  • Embryo, Mammalian*
  • Embryonic Stem Cells*
  • Ethics, Research*
  • Humans
  • Morals*
  • Philosophy, Medical*