Human Embryonic Stemcell Research in the New Millennium: Analysis of Pertinent Issues and the Necessity of International Uniform Regulations

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Law (SJD)



First Advisor

Dr. Professor Sompong Sucharitkul

Second Advisor

Dr. Professor Christian N. Okeke

Third Advisor

Professor Jon H. Sylvester


Chapter I sets forth an extraordinarily brief, but fair-enough-I-hope, history of medicine, and Chapter II discusses what is called the “Research Imperative.” With respect to the historical perspective, I proffer that medical practice is older than the current human species, and that it has certainly been indispensable to its survival. Furthermore, despite the schism between religion and science, with respect to certain aspects of hESCR, medical practice must have always depended upon knowledge acquired either serendipitously, or by research. Chapter II addresses whether there is a Research Imperative and argues that research is vital to information gathering, which in turn is spurred on by the survival instinct. Related to the research imperative is the question whether there a duty to pursue research, and if so, “to whom might that duty be owed? A further question considers the moral limits of that research; i.e., what are its proper subjects, and what are the limits of experimentation upon those subjects? To answer these questions, I will present solutions based upon a general understanding of religion, philosophy, morality and ethics, and economics.

Chapter III reviews traditional cell science, and further presents several new perspectives on cell science. Starting with discoveries back in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and coming forward to today, our perception of the cell has shifted from our thinking it is a mere cavity—hence the name, to an entity having complex organ systems and means of communication with other cells, and the environment. This chapter also reveals a few of the events that occur when two sex cells combine to form a single precursor cell, which at first seems quite nondescript; nonetheless, it can potentially produce hundreds of types of cells that organize themselves into a young human comprising fifty trillion cellular units. How that precursor cell manages such a feat is what researchers would like to know; for within that process, they believe, is the key to perpetual wellness and perhaps extraordinary longevity. Finally, this chapter discusses what can happen when researchers neglect the more commonly accepted moral and ethical norms.

To add some semblance of clarity to often confusing words, Chapter IV distinguishes between the often interchanged terms ethics and morals, and argues that morality relates to an innate or inculcated sense of right or wrong, while ethics may refer to the study of morality, or may mean guidelines established by professions to govern the conduct of their members. This chapter also examines three well-known philosophical views and explains how these might apply to hESCR. The chapter presents the views of Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, and Judaism, and discusses their general positions on hESCR. The chapter also analyzes the ethical and moral issues related to hESCR. The first concern addresses the moral propriety of using nascent human life, ostensibly to save, or enhance, other human life. Other issues debate the morality of using particular sources of embryos for research; among these are aborted human fetuses[1] and those derived from in vitro fertility treatments. The chapter also discusses the moral concerns created by the prospects of commodifying life, which is the selling or offering of biological material for sale, as well as the “buying” of scientific expertise.

By arguing that moral convictions relate to politics and policy formulation, Chapter IV prepares the way for Chapter V, where the discussion turns to the politics and research policies affecting hESCR. Even though many of the issues seem political, I suggest that philosophical and religious morality lie at the heart of the stem cell debate. The chapter concludes with a survey of global stemcell policies, showing that international policies vary from restrictive to permissive, and in many nations, there is no policy. The fifth chapter leads into a discussion of the law pertinent to hESCR; this law is covered in Chapters VI and VII.

Chapter VI discusses national law and international treaties that aim to regulate Human Rights. This is an important discussion because many people insist that a human embryo is fully human from the moment of conception, and thus should be accorded the same moral respect, and thus, legal protection allowed any human being. Several multinational treaties contain provisions that a court, now or at some future date, could construe to protect human embryos. In addition, many nations have enacted domestic laws to regulate, or even ban specific practices of hESCR.

Chapter VII continues the discussion of law by examining the Intellectual Property (IP) law of the United States (U.S.), the United Kingdom (U.K.), and the European Patent Office (EPO). Though Trademark and Trade secret Law could be useful to hESCR entrepreneurs, Patent Law will be the most immediately useful because it helps induce creativity and inventiveness by giving the patent holder a virtual monopoly allowing him or her, for a limited time, to exclude others from making, using, selling, offering for sale, or importing the claimed invention into the United States. This chapter completes the discussion of the current law, and leads into Chapter VIII, which begins laying the ground work for what the law should be.

Chapter VIII summarizes the main issues, presents arguments in support of and against hESCR, and emphasizes the pros and cons of government funding. Arguments favoring federal government funding claim such funding would allow greater transparence and access to resources, more equitable distribution of any benefits that accrue from the research, and a more sustainable base of funding. Among arguments against government dollars going to such controversial research, are those that claim too many restrictions may be imposed on the research, and that tax dollars should not be used for research that many taxpayers consider objectionable. Chapter IX will explore these arguments and others from a different perspective; the chapter will attempt to nudge our thinking towards a new set of paradigms of possible future events, largely of human making, that could very likely create new challenges that cannot be solved using more traditional approaches.


This dissertation was published as New Perspectives on Human Embryonic Stemcell Research: What You Need to Know About the Legal, Moral & Ethical Issues (Vandeplas, 2009). The book is available for purchase here:


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