Stem Cell Debate Term Paper

Pages: 5 (1963 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 5  ·  Level: Master's  ·  Topic: Biology

Stem Cell Debate

One of the most vehement scientific controversies of the last few decades has surrounded stem cells -- their harvesting, and use in research. Stem cells are found in most multi-cellular organs and are characterized by their ability to renew themselves and then differentiate into whatever type of cell is needed. For research purposes, then, the idea is that in time, embryonic stem cell research could result in our ability to regrow spinal tissue, organ tissue, or literally any damaged part of the body simply by using stem cells to repair and reconstruct the damaged tissue. The stem-cell controversy is less a scientific and more an ethical debate focused on the dilemma of whether it is appropriate to allow research involving the creation, usage, and destruction of human embryos. While the overall debate uses the term, "stem-cells," the actual controversy centers around embryonic stems cells. For example, not all research using stem cells involves creation or destruction of human embryos, and there is a great deal of current research not focused on human embryonic cultures (Stem Cells for Tissue Regeneration and Joint Repair).

The real power of stem-cells are their ability to differentiate into any type of body cell, thus offering treatments for numerous conditions by repairing damaged cells and replacing the damage with health cells of the right time. In fact, in 2009, the FDA approved the first human clinical trials using embryonic stem cells and the potential for specific nervous and immune system repair is already promising (International Consortium of Stem Cells, Ethics and Law).

It is easy to see the multidimensional ways that these cells could be utilized. Some research also points to the fact that the most viable research points to the use of embryonic stem cells because they have not yet formed the actual organ of intent. Cultures for research in embryonic stems cells are often provided from aborted fetuses. However, researchers at Advanced Cell Technology produced a stem cell line without the destruction of the parent embryo (U.S. Company Says Grows Embryo-Safe Stem Cells). Additionally, the fluid surround the fetus has been found to contain stem cells that, when used correctly, "can be differentiated towards cell types such as fat, bone, muscle, blood vessel, nerve and liver cells," according to the article. The extraction of this fluid is not thought to harm the fetus in any way. "Our hope is that these cells will provide a valuable resource for tissue repair and for engineered organs as well (Stem-Cell Controversy).

Controversy -- Research using any part of human embryonic tissue is controversial, especially when the primary mode of acquiring such cells resulted in the destruction of the embryo itself. This is alleviated somewhat with alternative means, but stem cell debates tend to engender the pro-life debate as well. For instance, those who believe in the rights and status of the embryo as being human at conception believe that utilizing any embryonic cells is akin to taking a human life. Their fundamental viewpoint is an assertion that life is inviolable and cannot be, for any reason, interrupted artificially (the Political Science of Stem Cells).

Alternatively, most medical researchers view stem cell research as the most important potential to alter our understanding and approach to treating diseases and alleviating suffering. Spinal cord injuries and Parkinson's disease are but two examples of those types that have been championed by the media (Michael J. Fox and Christopher Reeve). This view is echoed in a different way by Professor Paul berg, Emeritus Professor of Biochemistry at Stanford, and Nobel Prize winner. Berg states, "I'm an experimentalist, and the only way I can tell you if it works, is to try it." -- his is the epitome of scientific discovery, we can't "know' unless we try. Indeed, by its nature, science is an uncertain business, and predicting outcomes and results with certainty is foolhardy. I believe that the availability of embryonic stem cells provides a new and powerful approach to understanding the genetic and cellular basis of disease and for that reason is likely to lead to new knowledge and better treatments for those who are afflicted with those burdens. I'm convinced, however, that we are far less likely to find cures or new therapies without research on stem cells (Duncan, 2005).

Additionally, in August, 2000, the U.S. National Institute of Health stated:

… Research involving human pluripotent stem cells...promises new treatments and possible cures for many debilitating diseases and injuries, including Parkinson's disease, diabetes, heart disease, multiple sclerosis, burns and spinal cord injuries. The NIH believes the potential medical benefits of human pluripotent stem cell technology are compelling and worthy of pursuit in accordance with appropriate ethical standards (NIH Publishes Final Guidelines for Stem Cell research).

Of course, by 2004 Congress was urging President Bush to increase federal funding of stem cells and in May 2005 Congress voted to loosen the limitations of federally funded embryonic stem-cell research. President Bush reacted to the right and vetoed the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act of 2007. Professor of Biology and Physiology at University of California, Elizabeth H. Blackburn had stood fearlessly against Bush administration as a member of President Bush's Council on Bioethics urging them not to "distort scientific facts." She was dismissed from the Council, but remarked, dealing with reports on highly politically sensitive issues like cloning, stem cell research and enhancement (like increasing life span) she said, "Bush administration was 'backward looking' influenced by certain religious views and wanted no research in these areas" (Mohapatra).In March, 2009, though, President Obama repealed a ban enacted under President Bush, which now allows federal funding to be used for additional research (Espo)This will not end the debate, or the difficulties encountered in trying to bring the two sides together.

One of the serious difficulties is trying to debate an issue scientifically on one side, and morally on the other. "How can you have a meeting with people who come to it with a deep abiding faith that a fertilized egg is a person, and a blastocyst created by nuclear transfer is a person, and the destruction of that blastocyst to harvest stem cells is murder?. You can't" (Duncan).

It is the status of the human embryo that most of the controversy rests. For most religious groups, any manipulation or destruction of the human embryo is incompatible with doctrine. This view holds that human blastocysts are both biologically and ethically valuable and should never be destroyed as they are actually "human" from the moment of the chemical merging of the gametes (Beauchaine). Additional "value of life" supporters cite the famous 1973 Supreme Court decision in Roe v Wade in which the term viability of a fetus was defined as "potentially able to live outside the mother's womb, albeit with artificial aid," something that happens with stem-cell lines regularly (Roe v Wade).

The Catholic Church sums it up as a moral argument; supporting research that involves cells from adult tissues and the umbilical cord, but finding that embryonic stem cell research implies "the killing of innocent human creatures, even if carried out to help others, constitutes an absolutely unacceptable act" (on Embryonic Stem Cell Research). This is echoed in many ways by Protestant statements. For instance, utilizing biblical teachings, the Southern Baptist Convention noted also its support of stem cell research that does not require the destruction of embryos, but opposes human embryonic research because "the Bible teaches that human beings are made in the image and likelness of God (Genesis 1:27; 9:6) and protectable human life begins at fertilization" (Resolution on Human Embryonic and Stem Cell Research).

Conclusions - at the very center of the debate on euthanasia lies the core of individual and societal ethics. Ethics is a philosophical concept that attempts to explain the moral organization within a given chronological time and cultural event. It is more concerned with understanding the way that ethnical ideas are presented, than judging those concepts within the construct of the society. However, when one looks at the history of any philosophical subject, it is important to note that differing concepts of philosophy often arise "out of" that very historical and cultural fabric of the time -- and then evolve so that they become more acceptable to future generations rather than contemporaneous ones. The principles of ethics that have particular relevance to our subject center on the juxtaposition between utilitarianism and deontology (Haydn).

Utilitarianism holds that the most ethical thing one can do is any action that will maximize the happiness within an organization or society. Actions have quantitative outcomes and the ethical choices that lead to the "greatest good for the greatest number" are the appropriate decisions, even if that means subsuming the rights of certain individuals (Troyer, 256-52). It is considered to be a consequential outlook in the sense that while outcomes cannot be predicted the judgment of an action is based on the outcome -- or, "the ends justify the means" (Robinson and Groves). Deontology is a compatible, but alternative ethical system… [END OF PREVIEW]

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