Since stem cells have can develop into any cell type, they are considered important with respect to the advancements of medical treatments for various health conditions. Some of the medical conditions that stem cell research may be helpful in alleviating include genetic diseases, degenerative conditions, and physical trauma (Holland, Lebacqz and Zoloth 102). Moreover, there is the possibility of developing further treatments using stem cells owing to the fact that stem cells are capable of repairing tissues that have been extremely damaged. Scientific research has documented the immense success as well as potential of utilizing adult stem cells. In 2009, the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) permitted clinical trials on embryonic stem cells of human subjects (Levine 132). Embryonic stem cells are able to develop into any type of body cells; however, adult stem cells are limited to developing into cell types that are similar to the originating tissue. Nevertheless, there is some evidence indicating the possibility of adult stems differentiating into any cell type. There is the likelihood that the human immune system might reject embryonic stem cells, which is a problem that is unlikely when a patient is provided with stem cells from his or her body. At present, the research is underway in an attempt to devise techniques that help in the isolation of stem cells that have the differentiating capabilities of embryonic stem cells without having a human embryo (Williams, Kitzinger and Henderson 795). For instance, some researchers have noted the potential of the human skin to degenerate into an embryo. Scientific research has also revealed the possibility of developing a novel stem cell line. It is also possible to reprogram a stem cell to achieve an embryo-like status. Moreover, new stem cell lines can be successfully produced without the need to destroy the parent embryo. Another discovery related to stem cell research is that the fluid enclosing the fetus contains stem cells that can be used to form such cell types as liver cells, nerve cells, blood vessel cells, muscles, and fat and bone cells (Levine 135). Extracting this fluid does not pose any danger to the embryo. This paper explores the pros and cons of stem cell research, and concludes by supporting the use of stem cell research and its applications.
Background of Stem Cell Research
The issue of human embryo stem cell research and its applications remains a controversial topic. This is because, with the existing technology, creating a new human embryonic stem cell poses the need to destroy a human embryo. The pro-life movements (anti-abortion movements) have been very vocal against stem cell research including its applications. The members of the pro-life movements argue that the embryo is an early-aged human; as a result, he or she is entitled to some rights (Williams, Kitzinger and Henderson 796). They are of the opinion that stem cell research infringes the sanctity of life, and thus, is analogous to murder. The basic proclamation held by those opposing stem cell research and its applications is based on the conviction that human life is sacred, together with the view that the fertilization of the egg by the sperm to produce a single cell marks the beginning of human life. Some stem cell researchers produce new stem cell lines using embryos that were made for in vitro fertility treatments but were not utilized. A significant fraction of these embryos are usually lined up for destruction or subjected to storage over longer durations. In the US, it has been estimated that there are more than 400,000 embryos that are due for destruction or stored for longer durations (Williams, Kitzinger and Henderson 780). Medical workers acknowledge the huge potential of stem cell research in revolutionizing the treatment approaches and eliminating human suffering. The expected medical benefits associated with stem cell research have been the main arguing point for those supporting stem cell research including its applications.
Pros of Stem Cell Research
Those supporting the use of stem cell research and treatment usually cite the waste argument. In this regard, the in-vitro-fertilization process usually needs super ovulation treatment to boost the chances of the pregnancy becoming successful. Super ovulation can lead to about 14-40 fertilized eggs, out of which only 3 are to be implanted, while the remaining fertilized eggs may be frozen for the future use in the event that the pregnancy does not turn out to be successful (Levine 135). Therefore, stem cell research provides an opportunity to put these frozen or discarded embryos into good use. Those supporting stem cell research consider it immoral to discard or destroy hundreds of thousands of human embryos, which could be used in scientific research that has the potential of eliminating human suffering. Some advocates of stem cell research and applications have maintained that it is essentially wrong to use and support in vitro fertilization but oppose stem cell research. As Levine argues, it is problematic to maintain that destroying embryos to lessen infertility is ethical whereas destroying embryos to enhance treatment is unethical (134). In other words, those opposing stem cell research should first oppose in vitro fertilization. In general, a benefit of stem cell research is that it provides an opportunity for which the discarded human embryos can be used to benefit humanity instead of being destroyed. With regard to the waste argument, there is no doubt that in vitro fertilization results in many unused embryos, which are usually supposed to be destroyed. Therefore, these embryos are a crucial resource for scientific research that would otherwise be put to waste. In addition, despite the fact that destroying embryos is a requirement for the establishment of a stem cell line, it is imperative to note that there is no need to destroy embryos when working with existing stem cell lines. As a result, it is likely to be wasteful if existing stem cell lines are not used for scientific research.
The second benefit of stem cell research cited by its proponents is its ability to alleviate human suffering. It is evident that the stem cell controversy centers on scientific and religious domains regarding when the embryo develops into a person as well as the stage at which the embryo is capable of feeling pain. Nevertheless, the advocates of stem cell research maintain that, since controversy is primarily fueled by suffering and personhood, stem cell research ought to be permitted because of the balance of odds (Levine 132). In this regard, stem cell research is capable of alleviating human suffering that hundreds of thousands face when living with devastating conditions. As a result, stem cell research can be rationalized on grounds that it would be considered unethical to continue the suffering of many real persons at the cost of perceived suffering of embryos (may be persons).
Stem cell research has also been supported on the basis of the utilitarian perspective. In this regard, it has been argued that embryos cannot be equated to human life because of the fact that they lack the capability to survive outside the human womb. As a result, an embryo is only perceived to be a potential person and not a “real person”. About 33% of zygotes fail to implant after conception; as a result, a huge number of embryos are loss of chance when compared to the number of embryos that have been proposed to be utilized in embryonic stem cell treatment and research. The underlying argument is that embryos are not fully-developed humans since they are yet to develop into a differentiated organ tissue.
Cons of Stem Cell Research
Those opposing stem cell research, who comprise of mainly anti-abortion and religious groups, consider embryos to be human beings; therefore, the latter have the same rights and the entitlements to similar protection against potential abuse just like any other person. Those opposing the use of stem cell research are of the view that life commences at conception, specifically, during the fertilization of an egg. As a result, they consider embryo destruction to be analogous to destroying human life (Williams, Kitzinger and Henderson 780). In addition, anti-abortion groups are against conducting stem cell research using cells obtained from the fetuses that have been aborted. They are against the view that abortion is permitted legally, and therefore stem cell research can be conducted using these fetuses that would otherwise be wasted or destroyed eventually. It is worth noting that those opposed to stem-cell research are not against the potential outcomes; instead, they are against the perceived suffering that stem cell research imposes on a potential person. As a result, those opposed to stem cell research are advocating for better alternatives. Specifically, despite opposing embryonic stem cell research, they are supporting the use of adult stem cells. Pro-life movements usually argue that using adult stem cells has delivered promising results when compared to using stem cells from human embryos. Moreover, adult stem cells have the potential of producing significant advances if more funding was directed at adult stem cell research rather than embryonic stem cell research (Levine 133).
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From the above discussion, it is evident that the benefits of stem cell research far overshadow the perceived demerits. My political stand on the issue is that the legislators and members of the public should support the use of stem cell treatment and research. Specifically, legislators should enact laws supporting the use of stem cell research and treatment. The underlying argument is that stem cell research provides an avenue through which the discarded embryos can be used in order to lessen human suffering. In addition, it is imperative to note that those opposed to stem cell research are not against the expected outcomes of stem cell research, they are only opposed to the use of embryonic stem cells. The inference from this observation is that there is a convergence towards the support for stem cell research, owing to the fact that the opposing sides agree about the expected benefits of stem cell research.