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Such a claim elicits ardent objections from those who do not support embryonic stem cell research. Those opposed to embryonic stem cell research argue that the potential benefits of such research do not justify the termination of a young human life. There is no question, they say, that even at the blastocyst stage a young human embryo is a form of human life. Therefore, opponents argue, as a human life, embryos possess the same rights and are thus entitled to the same protections as are afforded to other human beings.
An assault against any innocent human being is an assault on humanity in general. Similar to Eckman, opponents of embryonic stem cell research believe that life begins at conception, the moment a sperm fertilizes an egg, and consequentially the destruction of a week-old human embryo is the destruction of a life. Though the majority of critical voices appreciate the effort to discover and develop cures for the benefit of suffering individuals through stem cells, they promote utilizing stem cells derived from sources other than human embryos, arguing that such research will not cause harm to another human being.
Recent scientific studies have made significant progress studying stem cells obtained from adult cells and umbilical cords, neither of which involves the abortion of a human embryo. While the arguments in support of human embryonic stem cell research are well intentioned, some have a number of flaws. A claim made by many supporters is that all embryos used in embryonic stem cell research will be destroyed anyway, so it is ultimately more respectful to use the embryo for research than to allow it to go to waste.
There are, however, other options for those parents of embryos stored in fertility clinics, one of which is to donate the embryos to other couples struggling with infertility qtd. Additionally, the number of embryos ultimately required to fully develop and apply embryonic stem cell research will vastly exceed the number of frozen embryos currently provided by fertility clinics.
A further development is the prospect of therapeutic cloning in which embryos are cloned for the sole purpose of research. Farming human embryos sounds like something from a science fiction novel, yet such an idea has been considered increasingly possible with recent scientific advancements. Cloning for scientific purposes begs the question, at what point does life begin such that it becomes unethical to destroy it? Therefore, the attempt to define a point at which life begins past the initial point of conception is futile. As more advanced technologies continue to be developed, society should not continue to define and re-define what constitutes a human life.
Life begins at conception, for it is from this point that an embryo contains all genetic information necessary to develop into a human being. As is suggested by Eckman, simply because an embryo at one week is not as physically mature as one at nine months, it is not any less human, and should therefore not be treated as such. The ethics of obtaining embryonic stem cells via these sources can be questionable and have led to disputes that I will later address.
Research utilizing human embryonic stem cell lines has focused on the potential to generate replacement tissues for malfunctioning cells or organs Liu 1. A specific technique has been isolated to utilize stem cells in order to repair a damaged tissue or organ:. Other examples of research efforts include treatment of spinal cord injury, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease, and diabetes. Researchers also hope to use specialized cells to replace dysfunctional cells in the brain, spinal cord, pancreas, and other organs 2. Federal funding of embryonic research has been strictly regulated since when President Clinton declared such research would not be funded by the government.
Following this executive order, Congress passed the Dickey Amendment in , prohibiting "federally appropriated funds from being used for either the creation of human embryos for research purposes or for research in which a human embryo or embryos are destroyed, discarded, or knowingly subjected to risk of injury or death" Liu 2. Embryonic research has continued nonetheless by means of alternative funding. In , President Bush declared that federal funding would be granted to human embryonic research on a restricted basis.
However, these funds were only to be awarded for research on already existing stem cell lines. No funding was to be granted for "the use of stem cell lines derived from newly destroyed embryos, the creation of any human embryos for research purposes, or cloning of human embryos for any purposes" The debate over funding for embryonic stem cell research depends heavily on the ethical status of the research. There are two main arguments surrounding the ethics of embryonic stem cell research: the research is ethical because of the unique potential that embryonic stem cells have to cure currently untreatable diseases; and the research is unethical because it requires the destruction of life in the form of an embryo or fetus.
Ultimately, the possible benefits and controversial status of life that an embryo embodies qualify embryonic stem cell research as ethical, as long as the stem cells are obtained in an ethical manner. In the realm of stem cell research, embryonic and adult stem cells are often compared.
The controversial use of embryonic stem cells is supported on the basis of the many advantages that they have over adult stem cells.
Embryonic stem cells are easier to obtain; they have a greater cell growth, otherwise known as proliferation, capacity; and they are more versatile. Embryonic stem cells are isolated from embryos in the blastocyst stage and the process damages the structure of the embryo to a point from which the embryo can no longer develop. Because these stem cells are obtained at a point when the inner cell mass is concentrated in the embryo, they are more easily obtained than adult stem cells, which are limited in quantity.
Another valuable benefit of embryonic stem cells is their ability to multiply readily and proliferate indefinitely when cultured in the proper conditions Devolder 9. Lastly, embryonic stem cells' pluripotent quality is the main factor that distinguishes them from adult stem cells The ability to differentiate into any cell type creates greater possibilities for the application of embryonic stem cells.
Supporters of embryonic stem cell research argue that the research is justified, though it requires the destruction of an embryo, because of the potential for developing cures and preventing unavoidable suffering. These backers often disagree with the belief that "a blastocyst — even one that is not implanted in a woman's uterus — has the same ethical status as a further-developed human" Clemmitt Arthur Caplan, professor of medical ethics at the University of Pennsylvania, asserts that "an embryo in a dish is more like a set of instructions or blueprint for a house.
It can't build the house. For the cells to develop into a human being requires an interactive process in the uterus between the embryo and the mother" Clemmitt Others in favor of the research, such as Heron, a biotechnology company, claim that "not to develop the technology would do great harm to over million patients in the United States alone who are affected by diseases potentially treatable by the many medical applications of hES [human Embryonic Stem] cells" Holland One example is the previously stated method of using embryonic stem cells to repair damaged tissue or organs.
The only way to restore cellular function in an organ is to literally replace the lost cells and embryonic stem cells provide the best option for producing these cells 3. Embryonic stem cells do also have some disadvantages that should be considered when making the argument for further support of embryonic stem cell research. Unlike adult stem cells, embryonic stem cells have a higher risk of causing tumor formation in the patient's body after the stem cells are implanted.
This is due to their higher capacities for proliferation and differentiation Devolder Embryonic stem cell-based therapies also possess the risk of immunorejection — rejection of the stem cells by the patient's immune system. Because embryonic stem cells are derived from embryos donated for research after in vitro fertilization treatment, the marker molecules on the surfaces of the cells may not be recognized by the patient's body, and therefore may be destroyed as the result of a defense mechanism by the body Holland This is a problem that will require a solution if embryonic stem cell research is to be the basis for future therapeutic medicine.
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.
The researchers believe that this material will replace fillings, as the stem cells would prompt the damaged teeth to heal themselves. Although much more research is necessary before stem cell therapies can become part of regular medical practice, the science around stem cells is developing all the time. In almost every therapy area, doctors hope that stem cell technology will revolutionize therapeutic norms and introduce at least a new standard of personalized treatment, and maybe even self-healing bodies.
Find out more here about stem cells, where they come from, and their possible uses.
Article last updated by Yvette Brazier on Mon 18 February Visit our Stem Cell Research category page for the latest news on this subject, or sign up to our newsletter to receive the latest updates on Stem Cell Research. All references are available in the References tab. Anastasiadis, K. Implantation of a novel allogenic mesenchymal precursor cell type in patients with ischemic cardiomyopathy undergoing coronary artery bypass grafting: An open label phase IIa trial [Abstract].
Dryden, J. Stem cells from diabetic patients coaxed to become insulin-secreting cells. Embryonic stem cells: Where do they come from and what can they do?
Hanna, J. Preservation of stem cells. Kolata, G. Stem cell therapies are still mostly theory, yet clinics are flourishing. Lo, B. Ethical issues in stem cell research.
Stem cells in therapy
McDonald, C. The end of root canals? Millman, J. Stem cell basics I. Turner, L. Selling stem cells direct in the USA: Assessing the direct-to-consumer industry. Where do we get adult stem cells? White, M. How scientific progress is changing the stem cell debate. Pacific Standard.
MLA Railton, David. MediLexicon, Intl. APA Railton, D. MNT is the registered trade mark of Healthline Media.
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Send securely. Message sent successfully The details of this article have been emailed on your behalf. Reviewed by Nancy Moyer, MD. Table of contents Stem cells in therapy Do current therapies work? Where do stem cells come from?