Skip Navigation

Ethics of Embryonic Stem Cell Research


The following statement addresses the ethical implications of using human embryos as a source of stem cells for research. It also examines in vitro fertilization procedures, as they are the source of most of the embryos that are presently used for research. This statement does not explore in detail other kinds of stem cell research, but finds no moral objections to research involving stem cells derived from adult cells or umbilical cord blood. The United Methodist Church has made a commitment to consider all issues in light of concerns for the welfare of all people and the just distribution of resources. In light of that, we wish to state at the outset our conviction that Christians are called to use their resources to meet the basic health care needs of all people.

Description of In Vitro Fertilization

In vitro fertilization (IVF) is a clinical practice in which a woman’s ovaries are hyper-stimulated to release several eggs, which are extracted and subsequently fertilized in a laboratory dish. This is for the purpose of creating embryos to be introduced into the uterus in the hope of implantation, gestation, and eventual birth. Current practice usually involves the extraction of up to 15-16 eggs for fertilization. The resulting embryos that are judged most viable are either introduced into the womb in the initial attempt or frozen and stored for possible later use. Some of the embryos are judged to be less viable than others and are discarded. (Those stored embryos that are not later used become the “excess embryos” whose use as a source of embryonic stem cells is currently under discussion.)

Concerns Regarding the Status of Human Embryos

A human embryo, even at its earliest stages, commands our reverence and makes a serious moral claim on us. For this reason we should not create embryos with the sole intention of destroying them.

We recommend the following guidelines for clinicians and couples considering IVF:

• We call for rigorous standards of informed consent regarding the procedures, the physical and emotional risks, and the associated ethical issues be applied to all reproductive technologies.

• We urge clinicians and couples to make the determination of how many eggs to fertilize and implant on a case-by-case basis.

Some Judgments Regarding the Use of Existing Embryos
for Stem Cell Research

There has been a great deal of scientific interest recently generated by research on human stem cells. These are the cells that give rise to other cells. There are a number of potential sources for stem cells, including adult tissues, fetal remains, umbilical cord blood, and human embryos. The use of adult stem cells and stem cells derived from umbilical cord blood raises few moral questions. The use of human embryos as a source for stem cells has been the subject of intense moral debate.

Given the reality that most, if not all, excess embryos will be discarded, we believe that it is morally tolerable to use existing embryos for stem cell research purposes. This position is a matter of weighing the danger of further eroding the respect due to potential life against the possible, therapeutic benefits that are hoped for from such research. The same judgment of moral tolerability would apply to the use of embryos left from future reproductive efforts if a decision has been made not to introduce them into the womb. We articulate this position with an attitude of caution, not license. We reiterate our opposition to the creation of embryos for the sake of research. (See Book of Resolutions, 2000, p. 254)

The Issue of “Therapeutic Cloning”

The United Methodist Church supports persons who wish to enhance medical research by donating their early embryos remaining after in vitro fertilization (IVF) procedures have ended, and urges national governments to pass legislation that would authorize funding for derivation of and medical research on human embryonic stem cells that were generated from IVF embryos and remain after fertilization procedures have been concluded, provided that:

1. these early embryos are no longer required for procreation by those donating them and would simply be discarded;

2. those donating early embryos have given their prior informed consent to their use in stem cell research;

3. the embryos were not deliberately created for research purposes; and

4. the embryos were not obtained by sale or purchase.

National health agencies are urged to establish an interdisciplinary oversight body for all research in both the public and private sectors that involves stem cells from human embryos, adult stem cells that have been made pluripotent, parthenotes, sperm cells, or egg cells, and cells that produce sperm or eggs.






From The Book of Resolutions of The United Methodist Church - 2016. Copyright © 2016 by The United Methodist Publishing House. Used by permission.