Juan Masia, SJ (Sophia University)
Beyond the Embryo". This is the meaningful title that S. Holland has put to her essay about the stem cell debate. She has edited a collection of studies on this subject ("The Human Embryonic Stem Cell Debate", MIT Press, Cambridge: Massachusetts 2001).
As she points out, most of the recent discussions have focused on the moral status of the pre-implanted embryo. The debates have concentrated upon the question of whether using a pre-implanted embryo, in order to obtain stem cells, is morally acceptable or not.
This is a difficult question. The answers given to this question come from two extreme positions. For some people the early embryo (of less than two weeks) is nothing more than a clump of cells. For others it is already a human being with dignity and rights. But S. Holland insists that we should look beyond the embryo debate and consider the larger social context of this debate, namely, the problem of oppression and domination against women, particularly poor women and non-white women. "Whereas much has been said about the embryo, comparatively little has been said about the effects of stem cell research on women and the poor within the framework of health care access and resource allocation;.
She is concerned with the fact that the debate over ethics of embryonic research has not faced the needs of women, especially poor women. She strongly criticizes the USA policy of outlawing public funding of embryo research, while fully permitting it in the private sector. Such policies reflect a worldview that gives priority to the dominant partner in any of the following fields: the private sector over the public, men over women, pre-implanted embryos over women, haves over have-nots.
According to this policy, if the private sector wishes to pursue embryo creation by in vitro fertilization for research alone, it may do so; if the private sector wishes to pay women whatever the market will bear for their eggs, it may do so; if market forces dictate that the demand for oocytes used in reproduction is greater than the demand for oocytes used in research, the price for the latter will be lower than that of the former. Therefore, if some eggs are worth more than others, because of the laws of supply and demand, such system will set in competition two groups of women against each other in terms of the market and on the basis of a "market supported eugenics".
The eggs of white, educated women will be worth more than eggs of non-white, less educated and poor women. The whole context of the system of insurance and the way of financing health care gives weight to these considerations. Actually, in 1998, of 43 million Americans without health insurance, 58% were black or Hispanic.
Although the situation of health care and insurance in Japan may be different, I still think it is relevant to quote the remark made by another feminist author, S. Sherwin. She wrote: "Research should be evaluated not only in terms of its effects on the subjects of the experiment, but also in terms of its connection with existing patterns of oppression and domination in society" (S. Sherwin, "No longer Patient: Feminist Ethics and Health Care", Temple University Press, Philadelphia, 1992).

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