Health Care Analysis

, Volume 20, Issue 1, pp 50–65 | Cite as

The Ethics of Moral Compromise for Stem Cell Research Policy

  • Zubin MasterEmail author
  • G. K. D. Crozier
Original Article


In the US, stem cell research is at a moral impasse—many see this research as ethically mandated due to its potential for ameliorating major diseases, while others see this research as ethically impermissible because it typically involves the destruction of embryos and use of ova from women. Because their creation does not require embryos or ova, induced pluripotent stem cells offer the most promising path for addressing the main ethical objections to stem cell research; however, this technology is still in development. In order for scientists to advance induced pluripotent stem cell research to a point of translational readiness, they must continue to use ova and embryos in the interim. How then are we to ethically move forward with stem cell research? We argue that there is personal integrity and value in adopting a ‘moral compromise’ as a means for moving past the moral impasse in stem cell research. In a moral compromise, each party concedes part of their desired outcome in order to engage in a process that respects the values and desires of all parties equitably. Whereas some contend that moral compromise in stem cell research necessarily involves self-contradiction or loss of personal integrity, we argue that in the US context, stem cell research satisfies many of the key pre-conditions of an effective moral compromise. To illustrate our point, we offer a model solution wherein eggs and embryos are temporarily used until non-egg and non-embryonic sources of pluripotent stem cells are developed to a state of translational readiness.


Moral compromise Stem cell research Stem cell policy Embryo Moral status Women’s health 



Altered nuclear transfer


Human embryonic stem cell


Induced pluripotent stem cell


Stem cell research



We would like to thank Dr. Françoise Baylis and the Novel Tech Ethics research team, Dr. David B. Resnik, Dr. Andrew Fenton, and Ms. Sasha Kontic for valuable feedback. We are also grateful to the anonymous reviewers of the manuscript for thoughtful feedback. This work was supported in part by a grant from the Stem Cell Network. ZM was affiliated with the Sprott Centre for Stem Cell Research and the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute, University of Ottawa when initially writing this manuscript. GKD Crozier was affiliated with the Department of Philosophy, Loyola University Chicago when first drafting the manuscript. The views expressed here are those of the authors and do not reflect the positions of their academic institutions, Health Canada, or the Government of Canada.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Health Law Institute, Rm 462, Law CentreUniversity of AlbertaEdmontonCanada
  2. 2.Department of PhilosophyLaurentian UniversitySudburyCanada

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