Benefiting from ‘Evil’: An Incipient Moral Problem in Human Stem Cell Research



When does benefiting from others’ wrongdoing effectively make one a moral accomplice in their evil deeds? If stem cell research lives up to its therapeutic promise, this question (which has previously cropped up in debates over fetal tissue research or the use of Nazi research data) is likely to become a central one for opponents of embryo destruction. I argue that benefiting from wrongdoing is prima facie morally wrong under any of three conditions: (1) when the wrongdoer is one’s agent; (2) when acceptance of benefit directly encourages the repetition of the wrongful deed (even though no agency relationship is involved); and (3) when acceptance of a benefit legitimates a wrongful practice. I conclude by showing that, because of the ways in which most embryonic stem cell lines come into being, people who oppose embryo destruction may use human embryonic stem cells without incurring moral blame.