Ethics Surrounding Human Embryonic Stem Cell Research Research Paper

Pages: 14 (5907 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 20  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Biology

Ethics Surrounding Human Embryonic Stem Cell Research

Since their discovery in the early 1990's, Stem Cells have brought with them the promise of evolutionary and significant scientific and medical research and opportunities that possessed the possibility of radically improving treatments for a host of diseases such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, various cancers and other diseases that currently render patients and scientists helpless to combat. Stem Cells have been at the center of the scientific research paradigm in terms of developing innovative treatments that could revolutionize the current course of medical care (Bellomo, 2006)

With the advent of medical and scientific research comes the inevitable emergence of the controversy that has accompanied every major scientific and medical advancement. The use of Stem Cells is no different. Those who seek to curtail the use of certain stem cell lines, revert to the argument that has defined many medical centric debates over the previous decades. This argument, the destruction of human life to create life, is the stalwart philosophical point that all anti-stem cell advocates attempt to make. These individuals equate the use of stem cells as akin to murder, the same vantage point that the anti-abortion interest groups use to persuade others the process is the taking of innocent human life (Bevington, 2002)

Conversely, those who purport the use of stem cells often find themselves in concert scientific evidence that demonstrates how potent stem cells are in terms of treating previously untreatable diseases. Humans, for the most part, seek to minimize pain and maximize pleasure. This dichotomy can be expressed in medical terms as well. Individuals are willing to involve themselves in various treatments that can prolong their lives or possibly reverse their condition. To this end, public opinion generally comes down in favor of stem cell research.

For all of the in-depth scientific arguments, citations to study after study indicating how effective stem cells are at improving patient well being, the entire argument over the correct use of stem cells in scientific research comes down to a moral-philosophical-religious connotation that has perplexed the minds of theologians and philosophers since the dawn of time "When does life begin"? The answer to this question will ultimately define this debate and conclusively provide the closure and resolution both sides have been searching for. However, this answer has yet to be determined, either from a purely religious or scientific perspective. Until this question is answered, the greatest extent possible, then the debate over the proper use of stem cells is destined to continue in its veracity.

The purpose of this discussion is to engage in an analysis of the various aspects of the ethical debate concerning the use of stem cells in medical research. This issue is not as simple as right vs. wrong and black vs. right, rather; there are complexities involving human suffering balanced to the taking of a human life that is in the form of an embryo. Implicit in this debate is a myriad of philosophical, ethical, scientific and religious logical constructs that integrate themselves into this debate which makes the debate over usage of stem cells one of the hottest debates currently produced in modern society.

This discussion will introduce this debate by outlining the science underlying stem cells. Furthermore, the various types of stem cells will be discussed along with the general concepts of biochemistry, biology and other chemical properties of these cells will be examined in order to provide a working construct that serves to frame the debate and provide a context in order to understand the nature of stem cells and how effective they are. In addition to the scientific discourse, the philosophical undertones of this debate from a wide variety of philosophical maxims inherently contained in it them will be analyzed within the framework of the stem cell debate.

Lastly, this discussion will conclude with an overall review of the main tenants of the ethical, moral, religious aspects of this debate. This essay will not judge the prongs of each approach to the ethical ramifications of stem cells in medical research.

Scientific Premise of Stem Cells

Stem cells are akin to "blank slates" in terms of their genetic development and principles. Stem cells possess two unique qualities that separate them from other cells in the human body (Carrier, 2004) First, Stem Cells are undifferentiated at their outset, this means that a stem cell has the ability to develop into any cell type in the body. A stem cell can be produced in the red bone marrow and then be placed into a pietri dish with cardiac cells (Cohen, 2007). Eventually, the stem cell will adapt the properties of those surrounding cardiac cells and develop into another cardiac cell-taking with it all the qualities and characteristics of the cardiac cell they are introduced to.

This differentiation principle allows stem cells to repair damaged tissues and organ systems (Wobus, 2008_. There have been many studies that demonstrate infusion of stem cells into damaged muscle tissue following trauma can increase the likelihood of a patient having a positive recovery, minimizing damage to internal organs or tissues. This principle is highly valuable to scientists seeking to harness this differentiation principle to direct stem cells in their quest to cure certain diseases (Wobus, 2008).

There are two distinct types of stem cells that researchers have used. Embryonic and Adult. The more potent stem cell lines that are used in medical research are derived from frozen human embryos, these Human Embryonic Stem Cells possess the greatest capacity to develop and foster immense possibilities in dealing with diseases. These stem cells are derived from those embryos that have been frozen and are waiting for fertilization from a male gamete. However, there are some instances in which these embryonic stem cells are not fertilized, therefore they are set to be discarded. Rather than have these embryos destroyed, they are used for scientific research to harvest their DNA and used in clinical treatments or academic research to investigate the impact of certain proposed treatments.

In recent years, scientists have been able to identify highly specialized conditions that allow a cell to be "reprogrammed" and revert back to its stem cell state; allowing it to exhibit the main principles of a stem cell-differentiation and tissue repair. These cells are referred to as "Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells" or (IPSC's) (Wobus, 2008). All three categories of stem cells: embryonic, adult and IPSC all posses the potential to radically alter the course of modern medicine and unlock the full impact of cell-based regenerative therapies to treat diseases such as diabetes, myocardial infarctions along with Alzheimer's and Parkinson's. Despite the inherent similarities between these various cell lines, there are differences that must be addressed.

The first difference is that each cell line inherently contains various levels of differentiation abilities. For example, Human Embryonic Stem Cells (hESC's) posses the highest level of differentiated ability in that they can be programmed to form any type of cell in the human body. Adult stem cells exhibit a more limited capacity for differentiation. Adult stem cells are limited to differentiating into additional cells from their tissue of origin. Specifically, an adult stem cell from a calf muscle cannot be introduced into the spinal column in order to regenerate damaged nerve tissue. Another critical difference between the two cell lines involves their generation.

Embryonic stem cells are more readily produced in culture. Adult stem cells, in contrast, are rarely found in mature tissue, therefore the process of isolating these cells is increasingly difficult. A related distinction is the ability of tissues derived from these cell lines to be rejected after transplantation. Currently, there is little data involving the tissues derived from Human Embryonic Stem Cells given the Food and Drug Administration has only recently given approval to allow human testing in Phase-1 clinical trials that involve transplanting tissues generated from Human Embryonic Stem Cells. Conversely, there is ample data to suggest that those tissues created from Adult stem cells are less likely to be rejected during transplantation. The science behind this principle is relatively straightforward; the patient's own cells are utilized in creating this newly formed tissue, therefore the incidents rates and probability of the patient's own T-Cells and B-Cells creating a histological reaction to "self" is increasingly unlikely.

IPSC's or "Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells" are the latest stem cells to be developed by research scientists. As defined earlier, these stem cells are not an individual stem cell line, like Embryonic or Adult, the are more akin to a "sub-division." These are cells that have been genetically reprogrammed through a variety of recombinant DNA and RNA technologies that have allowed these cells to revert to their stem cell phase, hence the word "Induced"- these cells are "induced" into becoming stem cells. Two types of IPSC's were developed, mice (2006) and humans (2007). Each of these cell lines exhibited qualities important to the foundation of pluripotent stem cells. Bot mouse and human IPSC's were able to form tumor necrosing cells, exhibit numerous cell markers and differentiate into… [END OF PREVIEW]

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