Currently, the isolation of embryonic stem cells requires the destruction of an early embryo. Many people hold the belief that a human embryo has significant moral status, and therefore should not be used merely as a means for research. One position that opponents of embryonic stem cell research assert is what "The Ethics of Embryonic Stem Cell Research" calls the full moral status view This view holds that "the early embryo has the same moral status, that is, the same basic moral rights, claims, or interests as an ordinary adult human being.
Therefore, with full moral status as a human being, an embryo should not be deliberately destroyed for research purposes simply because it is human Devolder The Roman Catholic Church is a strong supporter of this view, opposing stem cell research on the grounds that it is a form of abortion. Several other groups, including American evangelicals and Orthodox ethicists, consider "blastocysts to have the same status as fully developed human beings" and therefore oppose embryonic stem cell research for this reason.
Beliefs regarding the moral status of an embryo are subjective, and also their own controversial issue, which complicates the task of creating a universal law for the use of embryonic stem cells for research. Others in opposition, such as Kevin T. Fitzgerald, a Jesuit priest who is a bioethicist and professor of oncology at Georgetown University Medical School, do not consider the moral status of an embryo, but rather assert that Embryos should be protected because they are "that which we all once were" Clemmitt This view is very similar to moral philosopher and professor of philosophy as the University of California at Irvine Philip Nickel's "Loss of Future Life Problem" in regards to embryonic stem cell research.
The Loss of Future Life Problem holds that it is unethical to take the lives of future humans by destroying embryos for research Tobis This stance stresses the potential of those future lives that will never have the chance to reach fulfillment if destroyed for research.
In a retroactive sense, this can cause us to question "what if the embryo that developed into Albert Einstein was destroyed for embryonic stem cell research? The response to this problem is that the particular blastocysts that are harvested for embryonic stem cell research are taken from 1 embryos that are frozen during in vitro fertilization procedures and never implanted, 2 donated egg cells, and 3 embryos created specifically for the purpose of generating new stem cell lines.
In each of these cases, the embryo at hand does not have a future life in plan and therefore, nothing is lost by using such embryonic stem cells for research. For embryos created via in vitro fertilization, the researchers using the embryos are not making a decision that results in the loss of a future life. The future life of said embryo is lost when the decision is made to not implant it. Therefore, the Loss of Future Life Problem is not a valid objection to research using embryonic stem cells from frozen IVF embryos that are never implanted.
Donated egg cells can be fertilized in a lab or through somatic cell nuclear transfer, a process described earlier in this paper. Embryos created specifically for the purpose of contributing to stem cell research have no actual future life to be lost from the moment of conception. In both of these cases, the intent of fertilization is not to create a future adult human being, and so the Loss of Future Life Problem does not apply to these sources of embryonic stem cells.
If fertilization takes place outside a woman's body, by contrast, then the embryo is not already on its way toward a future life, so destroying it does not deprive it of that particular future" Tobis As shown by the various arguments in this essay, the debate over embryonic stem cell research is a multifaceted scientific, moral, ethical, and political issue.
Embryonic stem cells, with their pluripotent potential and self-renewing quality, hold great value for scientific researchers in search of cures for untreatable diseases, progress in regenerative medicine, or a better understanding of early human development. However, the ethical question still arises, "do the ends justify the means? Varying views regarding the ethical status of an embryo answer this question in different ways, though it is commonly accepted that if the means of obtaining the embryonic stem cells are ethical, then the resulting research of those stem cells is also ethical.
For example, if a donated egg is fertilized in a lab with the intention of being used for future research purposes, the resulting research is therefore morally justified. This is not to be said that the life of an early-stage embryo is to be taken lightly. More so that our moral perception of these embryos is different than that of a later-stage fetus, an infant, or an adult human being.
Phillip Nickel asserts this subconscious difference, claiming that,.
Sample Essay on Stem Cell Research: A Historical and Scientific Overview | Ultius
This shows that people do view embryos as somewhat different from people, even though they may not realize it" Clemmitt Thus, the moral distinction between a blastocyst and a developed fetus weakens the moral arguments in opposition to embryonic stem cell research. After all, if this research can reduce suffering for thousands of people, are we not morally obligated to pursue it?
Scientists in support of embryonic stem cell research are currently restricted by the limited amounts of federal funding and embryonic stem cell lines available for research. Many argue that these restrictions are preventing further scientific development and weakening the United States' position as a leading nation in biomedical research.
MDS Position Paper - Use of Stem Cell Therapies for Parkinson's Disease
Some scientists worry that if strict regulations of stem cell research continue, private companies may bypass the standards put in place by the National Institute of Health and conduct unregulated research Clemmitt If the United States wishes to remain a premiere country in biomedical research and maintain order and control of embryonic research being performed, action must be taken to address this issue. Overall, though the destruction of a life is typically held to be unethical, the moral status of an embryo in the blastocyst stage is unclear and therefore cannot be equated to the moral status of an adult human being.
Also, ethical sources of embryonic stem cells exist that do not take the life of future beings i. Their name comes from the fact that they can be harvested from mature tissue without causing harm to the person from whom they are harvested. Embryonic stem cells, on the other hand, can only be derived from embryos, and the harvesting process destroys the embryos.
From this basic introduction, it is already clear that embryonic stem cell research has far greater potential to be ethically problematic than adult stem cell research. However, embryonic stem cell research is also generally considered to have the greatest potential for delivering medical and scientific breakthroughs, due to the fact that they are even more flexible so to speak and undifferentiated than adult stem cells see Bongo and Richards.
From the medical perspective, stem cell research is viewed as very promising due to the fact that if stem cells can be introduced into patients with a range of illnesses, they could possible help regenerate the tissues and organs of the patients and thereby help heal illnesses and especially degenerative illnesses that are currently incurable. For example, Lovell-Badge has indicated that diabetes, Parkinson's disease, and Huntington's disease are among the illnesses that could potentially be responsive to stem cell research Again, given that the potential of stem cell research is directly correlated with the plasticity of the stem cells in question, it logically follows that there will be an increasing push by scientists to focus research on embryonic stem cells if at all possible, due to the fact that they have greater plasticity than adult stem cells and thus greater potential to contribute to medical breakthroughs.
The moral dimension of the issue, however, has generally led to limitations being imposed on the capacity of scientists to pursue embryonic stem cell research. The organization Science Progress has provided a good summary of some of the main events that have marked the scientific history of stem cell research. These include:. These events were important due to the fact that scientifically speaking, the isolation of stem cells from other elements within the body would be a prerequisite for conducting rigorous research on stem cells themselves. Clearly, the scientific progress over the past several years gives great cause for hope.
There has been a steady trend of scientists increasingly learning the secrets of stem cells and being able to apply their new knowledge to either research potential treatments or actually deliver effective treatments to human beings. Therefore, it could be suggested that anyone who has a real interest in seeing major medical breakthroughs happen which, presumably, would be almost everyone cannot afford to oppose the ongoing development of stem cell research per se. What there clearly can be controversy over, though, is how exactly the research agenda ought to proceed.
In order to more effectively address this dimension of the issue presently under consideration, it may be a good idea to turn now to the political history of stem cell research, or legislation that has surrounding the issue as it has developed over time. One of the clearest points that emerges regarding the political history of stem cell research and bioengineering in general , is that there has been ongoing controversy over the extent to which the federal government should fund research.
This has proved to be a quite partisan issue. For example, in , Bush issued an executive order that placed significant restrictions on federal funding for stem cell research; and in , Obama countermanded this order with an order of his own called "Removing Barriers to Responsible Scientific Research involving Human Stem Cells" see Research America. This, of course, is tied to broader political conflicts regarding issues such as religion and abortion. If the federal government is to spend tax money on stem cell research, then this would likely contradict the values of many Americans, and especially conservative Americans, regarding the origins of human life.
This is likely why the main legislative barriers against stem cell research have always focused on embryonic stem cell research.
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Again, as has been noted above, significantly greater ethical dilemmas inhere to research with embryonic stem cells than to research with adult stem cells. A good example of such restrictions can be seen in the guidelines for stem cell research released by the National Institute of Health in , which stipulated that:.
White House Is Opposed to New Bill on Stem Cells
Several important ethical points are exemplified by this statement, including that embryonic stem cells must be derived using private and not public funds and that it still is not acceptable to create embryos simply for the sake of harvesting stem cells from them and destroying them in the process. Over the course of the last several years, though, such regulations would seem to have become someone less salient both due to their relaxation under the Obama administration and to scientific innovations regarding adult stem cells, which have enabled scientists to somewhat circumvent the legislative debate surrounding embryonic stem cells.
This is because controversy over stem cell research generally tends to focus on the use of embryonic stem cells; but then, this leads to the more fundamental question of the legal, ethical, and metaphysical status of the embryo. In principle, if one grants that abortions are acceptable, then one must also grant that it is acceptable to create embryos specifically for the purpose of harvesting stem cells from them. To put it a little differently: insofar as an embryo is not understood as a living human being, there would be no reason for controversy to even arise regarding this matter.
Cell Stem Cell
Of course, there is a significant number of Americans who believe that life begins at conception, and that the embryo is thus in fact metaphysically a living human being. If this were the case, then the manufacture of embryos simply for the purpose of destroying them would be horrific, insofar the destruction of each embryo would then be morally and conceptually equivalent to murder.
If this paradigm is accepted, then whatever benefits could be produced by embryonic stem cell research would clearly be outweighed by unacceptability of the atrocities that would need to be committed in order to achieve those benefits. Clearly, this conflict ultimately surpasses the bounds of science itself and is grounded in the differing religions and broader worldviews of different groups of people within the nation.
As Robertson has written:.
Stem cell science is thus drawn into the ongoing, highly divisive wars over abortion and the culture of life that have occupied a central stage in American law and politics over the last 30 years" Stem cell research is thus a highly partisan issue, and it is likely to remain that way over the foreseeable future.
Research on human embryonic stem cells is objectionable due to the fact that such research necessitates the prior destruction of human embryos; 46 however, the HHS's claim that stem cells are not, and cannot develop into, embryos may itself be subject to dispute. Some evidence suggests that stem cells cultured in the laboratory may have a tendency to recongregate and form an aggregate of cells capable of beginning to develop as an embryo.
In , Canadian scientists reported that they successfully produced a live-born mouse from a cluster of mouse stem cells. While it is true that these stem cells had to be wrapped in placenta-like cells in order to implant in a female mouse, it seems that at least some doubt has been cast on the claim that a cluster of stem cells is not embryonic in nature. It would be irresponsible for the HHS to conduct and condone human embryonic stem cell research without first discerning the status of these cells. Their use in any research in which they could be converted into human embryos should likewise be banned.
Church Documents and Teachings
While proponents of human embryonic stem cell research lobby aggressively for government funding of research requiring the destruction of human embryos, alternative methods for repairing and regenerating human tissue render such an approach unnecessary for medical progress. For instance, a promising source of more mature stem cells for the treatment of disease is hematopoietic blood cell-producing stem cells from bone marrow or even from the placenta or umbilical cord blood in live births.
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These cells are already widely used in cancer treatment and in research on treating leukemia and other diseases. For example, given the right environment, bone marrow cells can be used to regenerate muscle tissue, opening up a whole new avenue of potential therapies for muscular dystrophies.
An enormously promising new source of more mature stem cells is fetal bone marrow, a source which is many times more effective than adult bone marrow and umbilical cord blood. This is true whether the unborn child is the donor or the recipient-that is, fetal cells can be used to treat adults, or adult bone marrow cells can be used to treat a child in the womb without the usual risk of harmful immune reactions. In , unprecedented advances were also made in isolating and culturing neural stem cells from living human nerve tissue and even from adult cadavers. Such advances render it quite possible that treatment of neural diseases such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's, as well as spinal cord injuries, will not depend upon destructive embryo research.
Earlier claims that embryonic stem cells are uniquely capable of "self-renewal" and indefinite growth can also now be seen as premature. For example, scientists have isolated an enzyme, telomerase, which may allow human tissues to grow almost indefinitely. Although this enzyme has been linked to the development of cancer, researchers have been able to use it in a controlled way to "immortalize" useful tissue without producing cancerous growths or other harmful side effects.
Thus, cultures of non-embryonic stem cells may be induced to grow and develop almost indefinitely for clinical use. One of the most exciting new advances in stem cell research is the January announcement that Canadian and Italian researchers succeeded in producing new blood cells from neural stem cells taken from an adult mouse. Researchers believed that only embryonic stem cells retained the capacity to form all kinds of tissue in the human body.
However, if stem cells taken from adult patients can produce cells and tissues capable of functioning within entirely different systems, new brain tissue needed to treat a patient with Parkinson's disease, for example, might be generated from blood stem cells derived from the patient's bone marrow. Conversely, neural stem cells might be used to produce needed blood and bone marrow. Use of a patient's own stem cells would circumvent one of the major obstacles posed by the use of embryonic stem cells-namely, the danger that tissue taken from another individual would be rejected when transplanted into a patient.
However, his own claim that human embryonic stem cell research can produce treatments for diabetes and other diseases is also based solely on experimental success in mice. One approach to tissue regeneration that does not rely on stem cells at all, but on somatic cell gene therapy, is already in use as an experimental treatment.
A gene that controls production of growth factors can be injected directly into a patient's own cells, with the result that new blood vessels will develop. In early trials, this type of therapy saved the legs of patients who would have otherwise undergone amputation. The above recent advances suggest that it is not even necessary to obtain stem cells by destroying human embryos in order to treat disease. A growing number of researchers believe that adult stem cells may soon be used to develop treatments for afflictions such as cancer, immune disorders, orthopedic injuries, congestive heart failure, and degenerative diseases.
Such researchers are working to further research on adult, rather than embryonic, stem cells.