Embryonic stem cell research and the argument of complicity

Birnbacher, Dieter
March 2009
Reproductive BioMedicine Online (Reproductive Healthcare Limited;2009 Supplement 1, Vol. 18 Issue S1, p12
Academic Journal
While the argument of complicity is only rarely discussed in bioethics, it is of obvious relevance to the issue of imported embryonic stem cells in countries in which the derivation of stem cells from early human embryos is legally prohibited and/or morally rejected. Complicity means that making use of the results or products of an illegal or morally problematic activity is itself morally problematic, although generally to a lesser degree than the original activity. The question arises as to which conditions make the argument of complicity plausible, thus supporting attacks against legislation that aims to promote research based on 'fruits of a forbidden tree'. This paper distinguishes a number of different variants of complicity, proposes that they deserve different kinds of moral valuation and applies the results to the ongoing debate about the German stem cell research law.


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