The moral status of stem cells

Agata Sagan, Peter Singer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Scopus citations


What moral status should we attribute to stem cells? To answer this neglected question, we look in this essay at the properties of embryos and other entities that could develop into beings who have uncontested moral status, namely, adult humans. Our analysis indicates that those who grant moral status to embryos should also grant it to stem cells. This has implications that verge on absurdity, since even if we were to try to do what we can to protect these entities, we would face the dilemma that the development of any embryo requires the destruction of other potential beings. We respond to objections, including the claim that the destruction of human embryos is wrong not because of the potential of human embryos but because human embryos are actual beings with a rational nature. We conclude that the more plausible position is to deny moral status to embryos, and thus to stem cells as well.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)264-284
Number of pages21
Issue number2-3
StatePublished - 2007

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Philosophy


  • Cell
  • Embryo
  • Moral status
  • Stem cells


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