The Lady Vanishes: What's Missing from the Stem Cell Debate

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Abstract

Most opponents of somatic cell nuclear transfer and embryonic stem cell technologies base their arguments on the twin assertions that the embryo is either a human being or a potential human being, and that it is wrong to destroy a human being or potential human being in order to produce stem cell lines. Proponents' justifications of stem cell research are more varied, but not enough to escape the charge of obsession with the status of the embryo. What unites the two warring sides in ‘the stem cell wars' is that women are equally invisible to both: ‘the lady vanishes.' Yet the most legitimate property in the body is that which women possess in their reproductive tissue and the products of their reproductive labour. By drawing on the accepted characterisation in the common law of property as a bundle of rights, and on a Hegelian model of contract as mutual recognition, we can lessen the impact of the tendency to regard women and their ova as merely receptacles and women's reproductive labour as unimportant.

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