With the growth of scientific technology, the cloning of human stem cells has raised ethical questions that Prof. Rita Calvo, molecular biology and genetics, presented along with positive scientific effects yesterday.
Calvo first focused on the details of embryonic stem cells, explaining the potential therapeutic uses, such as replacing damaged tissue and finding cures for ailments like heart disease and Alzheimer’s. Besides the ethical controversies, Calvo said the main problem of stem cells was possible rejection from the body’s immune system. She then reviewed the scientific facts of cloning and its moral dilemmas.
“I can’t imagine why people would want to do reproductive cloning,” Calvo said. “And most scientists, at least those who have spoken up, don’t agree with it either.”
After gaining a general understanding of the science at hand, Calvo split the audience members into groups to debate controversial topics ranging from the ethics of therapeutic cloning to the funding of stem cells.
Government funding of stem cells in particular received a large amount of focus.
“The whole question of funding is very interesting and it is to some extent very political, and I don’t just mean now; I also mean before,” Calvo said. “Funding levels aren’t necessarily driven by the science. A lot has to do with advocacy groups so it isn’t as pure as you would think.”
Calvo hopes that by first providing students with a basic understanding and then debating the topic at hand, they would feel a sense of balance.
“I hope they found it stimulating and that they learned something,” Calvo said. “I wanted to both educate and stimulate them.”
Father Robert Smith, Bioethics Society faculty advisor and Cornell chaplain, said that debates on controversial topics, such as stem cell cloning, are central to a university community.
“This is the kind of interdisciplinary discussion that is so crucial,” Smith said. “You have scientists who are talking about science and the ethics of it. That’s what bioethics is about.”
The lecture, titled “Stem Cells and Human Cloning: Panacea or Disaster?” was sponsored by the Bioethics Society.