Scholars in a range of fields from biology and medicine to theology and law, some with widely diverging views, convened at Fordham University on Tuesday, April 17, to take part in spirited discussions on one of the most controversial issues in science: embryonic stem cell research.
“The debate over embryonic stem cell research is one of the most complex moral issues confronting us today,” said Celia Fisher, Ph.D., Marie Ward Doty Professor of Psychology and director of the Fordham Center for Ethics Education, which organized the conference, “Embryonic Stem Cell Research: Moral Questions for the 21st Century,” at McNally Amphitheatre on the Lincoln Center campus.
“There is no doubt that questions that arise from the use of human embryonic stem cells in research and medicine require moral deliberation,” she said. “However, moral commitments sustained within a knowledge vacuum nurture argument rather than dialogue. Today, Fordham University … seeks to advance moral discourse on this subject.”
The daylong conference featured nine presenters, whose views sometimes clashed over such issues as the use of embryos for the harvesting of stem cells and federal funding of such research. Stem cells represent a major scientific breakthrough because they have the ability to renew themselves, and each new cell has the potential to become another type of cell with a more specialized function, such as a muscle or brain cell.
Researchers believe that stem cells could serve as a renewable source of replacement cells to treat everything from Parkinson’s disease to spinal cord injuries. There has emerged, however, strong opposition by those who consider it immoral to destroy an early-stage embryo, known as a blastocyst, to develop new stem-cell lines. President Bush has limited federal funding for research to about 60 stem-cell lines developed before 2001.
Among the panelists were Richard M. Doerflinger, M.A., deputy director of the Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops; Patrick Lee, Ph.D., professor of bioethics at the Franciscan University of Steubenville; R. Alta Charo, J.D., Warren P. Knowles Professor of Law & Bioethics at the University of Wisconsin at Madison; and David C. Magnus, Ph.D., associate professor of pediatrics and medicine at Stanford University.
The interdisciplinary conference was sponsored by Fordham’s Center for Ethics Education, the Francis and Ann Curran Center for American Catholic Studies and the Fordham Natural Law Colloquium.