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New Perspectives in Transplantation Medicine - [German]


Oct 1998 - Jan 2003


Lehrstuhl für Ethik in den Biowissenschaften

Eberhard Karls Universität Tübingen

Fakultät für Biologie

Wilhelmstraße 19

72074 Tübingen


Phone: +49-(0)7071-29-77191 Fax: +49-(0)7071-29-5211

E-Mail: eve-marie.engels@uni-tuebingen.de
URL: http://www.uni-tuebingen.de/zew/index_bio.html


Engels, Eve-Marie (Prof. Dr.)


Lotter, Gisela

Schicktanz, Silke

Short Description:

Title of Project:
New Perspectives in Transplantation Medicine: The Biological, Medical and Ethical Aspects of Xenotransplantation and the derivation of Organs from Embryonic Stem Cells

The successes of transplantation medicine have led to an increasing demand for donated human organs, but the required amounts are not available. Xenotransplantation and the production of organs from embryonic stem cells are two of the possible alternatives to conventional allotransplantation which are being discussed. Along with the biological and medical problems which have to be solved, there are important ethical questions which present themselves. Both methods clearly illustrate in their own unique way the results of the integration of different areas of research and practice, which in turn puts the individual areas of ethics within bioethics into relation to one another. Transplantation medicine, reproductive medicine and genetics, which were originally established to solve completely different problems, come together here and, to a certain extent, face us with completely new ethical questions. It is the goal of this research project to formulate these questions and to discuss them from an ethical point of view before the application of these technologies is initiated on a large scale.

There is an urgent need for a balanced and comprehensive ethical discussion of xenotransplantation, because until recently the discussion has been dominated by only one or a few topics. In the eighties the primary focus was put on questions of animal ethics; today's foremost concern is the risk of infection. The research project presented here should serve to close the gaps. The new perspective of producing organs from embryonic stem cells (or from embryonic germ cells, EG cells) has been discussed in expert circles with greater intensity since it was made known, in July 1998, that efforts to produce human EG-cells were successful. Ethical problems in connection with embryonic research and with the possibilities of genetic manipulation will be discussed in the planned project in light of European and German directives and legislation. Depending on the origin of the embryonic cells, however, - whether we are dealing with ES-cells from the inner cell mass of the blastocyst or with EG-cells from aborted embryos or foetuses, - a range of special legal and ethical problems arise which will be specially addressed. The problems of both areas are addressed by taking into account the current state of empirical research as well as the current international discussion on the ethics of science and the results of technology assessment. Xenotransplantation and the stem-cell problem are a particularly good example of the interconnection between different fields of research and contexts of everyday life as well as the ethically relevant consequences which follow from this. Therefore, they are prime examples of the need for an interdisciplinary dialogue between the natural sciences, humanities and the social sciences. Ethical problems in the biomedical sciences are not simply problems of applying ethical principles to particular cases. Thus, it is necessary that bioethics include natural philosophy, anthropology, psychology as well as other disciplines. The term 'applied ethics' is misleading because it suggests that one the one hand there are clear cases or entities and on the other hand there are clear principles at hand which we simply have to apply like recipes in order to solve our ethical questions. Due to the new biological and medical technologies and the new options opened by them, natural borders which also used to be the borders for our action, however have been moved and we have to ask questions like 'What is the moral status of the embryo?' 'What is the moral status of embryonic stem cells?' 'When is a person dead?' 'What is the moral status of animals?' and so on. This means that we have to reflect the status of these entities in the context of philosophical anthropology, natural philosophy and the empirical sciences before we make ethical judgments. Therefore it would be better to use the term 'application oriented ethics' instead of 'applied ethics'. The project should be able to help the layman acquire a better understanding of the complexity of new technologies and the problems surrounding them . The project also aims at broadening public discourse and at gaining new insights which might serve as a basis for directives and scientific as well as socio-political decisions.

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