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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.