Summer 2005

A Response to the Joint Statement, “Production of Pluripotent Stem Cells by Oocyte Assisted Reprogramming”

David L. Schindler

"The assertion that OAR enables us to create pluripotent stem cells without creating an embryo is certainly true only if the mechanistic philosophy mediating this claim is certainly true, which it is not."

A group of some 35 pro-life scholars has issued a statement endorsing a proposal claiming to produce pluripotent stem cells without creating and destroying embryos and without producing an entity that undergoes or mimics embryonic development. The method by which this is to be accomplished is a form of altered nuclear transfer (ANT) called oocyte assisted reprogramming (OAR).

The Joint Statement means to present nothing more than a straightforward technical solution to a moral dilemma. It maintains this appearance of innocence, however, by begging a series of questions, and so by importing a number of assumptions, regarding the origin and nature of human life and, at least implicitly, also regarding the meaning of nature, of creation, and of Christian faith itself, and of the implications of these for (scientific) reason. The Statement proceeds as though these (implied) assumptions are unproblematic, that they do not or should not present ethical problems for persons who share the signatories’ pro-life intentions.

The purpose of the present response is to show, on the contrary, that the assumptions carried in the Joint Statement conflict on their face with several significant ethical—and philosophical and indeed theological—principles. Unaware of, or setting aside, these prima facie problems, the signatories of the Statement have publicized their assumptions in haste and without the deliberation and sustained argument demanded by and proportionate to the importance of what is at stake. The present response intends to show the gravity of this omission in terms of our ability to mount a truly consistent, reasonable, and persuasive defense of human life.1


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1. For a discussion of the issues evoked in connection with the ANT and OAR proposals, see the articles by Roberto Colombo, Adrian Walker, and myself in Communio 31, no. 4 (Winter 2004) and 32, no. 1 (Spring 2005). They are available online at