Benefits of Stem Cell Research
Medical research has brought to the world many great improvements: cures for numerous types of illnesses, pain medications, and an infinite number of things that have changed the way people look at the scientific side of medical research. Along with the remarkable breakthroughs of medical research comes the cons that have derived from the practice. This includes nerve agents that have been used in chemical warfare. Medical research has the potential to be one of the greatest things that has ever happened to mankind or the worst. With every good product comes a controversial side. One issue that contains a good and bad side is stem cell research. Stem cell research could be one of the biggest breakthroughs in medical history. Although it could be the cure to a vast number of diseases, there are certain moral and ethical issues that come into play.
With most public issues, there are two sides to the study of human embryonic stem cells. However, to truly have an opinion, one has to understand what the study contains. The National Institute of Health says, ” A stem cell is a cell that has the ability to divide (self replicate) for indefinite periods…under the right conditions, or given the right signals, stem cells can give rise (differentiate) to the many different cell types that make up the organism. That is, stem cells have the potential to develop into mature cells that have characteristics, shapes and specialized functions, such as heart cells, skin cells, or nerve cells”(Potential…). In simpler terms, scientists can reproduce certain types of cells that can be used to treat dying or malfunctioning organisms. The main argument supporting this is the study of stem cells has not been proven to cure any diseases or create stable human tissue. Some say that the promise of embryonic research is based only on a conjecture (Stem Research).
With most controversial discoveries, the issue of ethics also comes into light. Pro-life groups have sued the U.S government over stem cell research. This is part of the game that is played with most national issues. Along with the statement from pro-life groups, “stem cell research cannot cure anything”, comes the fact that stem cells derive from human embryos or fertilized eggs. This is what makes the issue so controversial. In addition, it now falls under the same stipulation as abortion and cloning. Some pro-life groups agree that no embryo should be wasted because life is started at conception. In other words, pro-life groups are saying that scientist are killing babies to do research on something that has not been proven to work (Catholic)
In some cases couples who cannot conceive their own children, turn to in vitro fertilization, which is an artificial environment outside the living organism for eggs. While doing this, ten or more embryos are prepared, but only three or four are picked and implanted in the surrogate mother. There are two ways that surplus embryos can be handled. One procedure is to freeze the spares in liquid nitrogen called “cryopreservation” (Antkowiak ). With freezing, comes many risks of the embryo dying while frozen or in the process of unfreezing. The second possibility is to dispose of the embryos. The embryos are unable to develop outside the mother so they are discarded if not used. The embryos are simply flushed down a sink, others are burned, and some are exposed to the air to die naturally. This is done while the embryos are still living (Human). The simple solution to this is to donate the excess embryos to research. Instead of simply wasting them, scientists can use them to further the possibilities of stem cell research.
Although it seems that stem cell research is a useful way to use the excess embryos, some say that the embryos are not always wasted. Some of the embryos that are frozen wait to be adopted by other couples. This is an alternative to being destroyed (Reaves). This seems as though it should be the fate of all excess embryos; but again, during the transition from being frozen to thawing, there is a risk of death.
Ethical issues that arise from stem cell research are solely based on where the stem cells are taken from. This is a reasonable argument supported by the fact the cells are taken from a living embryo, which is destroyed, after the cells are taken. In the early stages of stem cell research, all of the samples are taken from excess embryos that are stored at in vitro clinics. This can only be done if the doners give the scientist permission to study the embryos. This is what causes an uproar in the pro-life community. The community believes that all the embryos still have the potential to live. To solve the problem, the pro-life groups exclaim that there are more “ethical” ways to obtain the cells. One way to obtain cells is by pulling the stem cells from aborted fetuses. Another way is to obtain the cells is from healthy adults. This is an alternative to using embryonic stem cells. The stems that are pulled from the adults do not show the same promising effects as the ones pulled from the embryos.
The main focus of this controversy should not be where and how they are obtained because both sides are trying new ways to obtain the cells. The main focus is that scientists are trying to preserve life. The supporting groups are trying new types of cells that are taken from so-called “unethical” locations. The most exciting and promising new technique is taking cells from unfertilized primate eggs. Another favorable way to study stem cells is without using fertilized embryos. This is the only time that scientists have been able to derive a pluripoten stem cell (cell that can turn into any type) from a monkey’s parthenote or unfertilized egg. This is a win, win for both those who are proponents of stem cell research and those that are for it (Scientists).
Although there are presentable arguments to both sides, one must understand the possibilities. With stem cell, research comes the possibility of enhancing life. It might only be a possibility, but without taking great risks, there is no possible chance for great discovery. This should be considered because many of the world’s greatest accomplishments were produced with the possibility of something better.
The world has had a long lasting war with failing organs that can be cured through a transplant. However, the use of transplants is heavily outweighed by supply and demand. There is a great demand for transplants, so much of a demand that there is no supply great enough to keep up. With the use of stem cells, there may be a demand that can be met through cell therapy. Cell therapy is the final product of stem cell research. Some of the diseases or injuries that could be affected by cell therapy include: Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, spinal cord injury, stroke, burns, heart disease and diabetes. Some of the lesser disorders that can benefit from cell therapy are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis (applications). With continued research, there is no limit to the possibilities of the number of illness that might be cured with stem cell research.
In the past, many great studies have proven beneficial to the world. Typically, ethical questioning stifles these studies. When people come to realize the potential of a given study, hopefully they might be rewarded with its greatness.
Antkowiak, Laura. “Understanding Stem Cell Research”. 30 October 2003. http://www.NRLC.org
“Catholic Spirituality”. Yahoo Groups. 30 October 2003. http://groups.yahoo.com/group/cathspirit/message
“HUMAN EMBRYOS AND FERTILITY CLINICS: ARE PRO-LIFERS IGNORING THE REAL PROBLEMS?”. 10 November 2003. http://www.religioustolerance.org/abo_inco.htm
“Potential Uses of Human Stem Cells”. National Institutes of Health. 9 November 2003.
Reaves, Jessica. “The Great Debate Over Stem Cell Research”. 30 October 2003. Vol 162 No. 14
“Scientists Derive Stem Cells From Unfertilized Primate Egg”. Stem Cell Research Foundation. 10 November 2003. http://www.stemcellresearchfoundation.org/WhatsNew/September_2003.htm#4.
“Stem Cell Issue at a glance”. Pennsylvania Pro-Life Federation. 30 October 2003. http://www.paprolife.org/issues/stem_cell.html
“STEM CELL RESEARCH :All sides to the dispute.” 10 November 2003. http://www.religioustolerance.org/res_stem.htm
“Stem Cell research and applications”. 11 November 2003 http://www.aaas.org/spp/sfrl/projects/stem/main.htm
Benefits of Stem Cell Research