Introduction to “Stem Cell Research” Issue

[1] Stem cell research is not only an issue for academic ethical reflection. It is an issue that has played prominently in recent elections, and has become a topic of discussion for journalists and the general public. It is an issue about which people, inside and outside the church, have been seeking guidance and direction in fashioning their own judgments. This issue of the Journal of Lutheran Ethics makes another contribution to this ongoing discussion.

[2] Paul Jersild sets the stage for this discussion by addressing the central question of the theological and moral status of the embryo. While affirming the historical Christian respect for all of human life, Jersild proposes a gradualist or developmental understanding of human life which recognizes the possibility, even the need, to make distinctions in how we think about our obligation toward human life as it develops. His claim is that such a perspective can be rooted in the relational character of the Lutheran theological tradition.

[3] Hans Tiefel makes the case that our ethical judgments about issues like human stem cell research are in fact often determined by the language and nomenclature that we use to name the objects of our discussion. He therefore analyzes key words used in the stem cell research debate, and draws their implications for the ethical judgments that we make. He argues that scientific descriptive terminology, while necessary, is not adequate to capture a biblically-based understanding of reality.

[4] Paul Nelson suggests that recent developments in embryonic stem cell research have in many ways taken the discussion beyond the moral status of the embryo. But far from settling the debate, these new developments pose other critical questions for ethical reflection for the scientific and religious communities. Nelson points to questions of justice that loom large over many of these newer developments.

[5] Kell Julliard uses the ELCA social statement “Caring for Health” to critique current directions in health care research. Julliard uses the Lutheran Medical Center in Brooklyn, New York, as a case study for developing research agendas that are consonant with the ethical context and values expressed in the social statement.

[6] Taken together, these articles provide a variety of perspectives for ethical reflection on medical research. They help to frame the issues of this important discussion.