In today’s world, where diseases are constantly threatening to cut short the natural course of life, people are persistently on the look out for means of preserving the vigor of life. Life-threatening and debilitating diseases have plagued mankind’s existence. It cannot be helped that man’s love for life be expressed during times of trial. For this reason, societies around the world are facing an issue that encompasses religion, politics, economics and culture. Man is being forced to take sides on the heated debate about stem cell research. Is it really pro or anti life?
Stem cell research has been shrouded with controversy from the beginning. People have mixed viewpoints regarding the need to continue the research. The public is torn between protecting the “life of the unborn” and ensuring the right of the living to continue on living. With the promises of stem cell research, one cannot help but wonder if this is the miracle that the world has been waiting for or is it all too good to be true?
The divided opinion of the people on the research can be traced with key concerns that have not been thoroughly dealt with. Therefore, one way of arriving at an agreement is by clarify the points of the research and providing sound explanations as to why there is a need to push through with what has been started. The technical explanation is not enough. Other fields of studies can be employed to strengthen the points to be made. Below is one of the major questions about stem cell research, the answers to which can determine the course the research will take.
Is stem cell research pro-life?
The public is being bombarded with viewpoints of both the pro and anti-stem cell research groups. However, it is often the case that the arguments lead to more confusion instead of shedding light on the situation. This becomes the case when arguments being presented are straying far from the realities of stem cell research. Too much attention has been given on the ethical, moral and religious implications of the research as well as the rights of the “unborn”.
The debate on stem cell research has been reduced to the rights of the “unborn” to live and the rights of the living to continue on doing so. This statement does not intend to do away with the research’s obligation to defend itself in the field of ethics. It merely implies that that stem cell research should be viewed with an open mind and with willingness to hear the possibilities, instead of attacking the concerns with only one viewpoint as ammunition.
Anti- stem cell research advocates often use ethical and moral issues surrounding the research in the attempts to gain the public’s support. They attack stem cell research in such a way that it would seem that the research will not be beneficial at all and will only foster a culture of decadence. By introducing terms such as stem cell harvesting or organ harvesting (Wright 352), people are being taught to fear the advances in the field science by painting ghoulish images. The term harvesting sprang from the notion the stem cell research aims to abort the development of embryos into fetuses by manipulating them into developing specific tissues.
But as studies shows, this is far from the true nature of stem cell research. The use of embryonic stem cells is just one of the sources of stem cells. There are actually four ways of obtaining embryos (Goldstein 1). First is through fertility clinics where thousands of surplus embryos are available. Surplus embryos are products of in vitro fertilization (McLaren 129). Given that the aim of fertility clinics is to produce a single pregnancy per patient it cannot be helped that embryos will be produced.
Recently, scientists have found out that adult cells are also potent sources of stem cells. Works of Dr. Jonathan Slack showed that adult human liver cells can be converted to insulin producing cells similar to cells found in the pancreas (qtd. in Dixon 1, “Disappearing Stem Cell” 9). This process did not come as a surprise to scientists, since it is a fact that almost all of the cells in a human body contain a person’s genome. This theory concludes that every cell in a human body can reproduce any tissue needed. But in order for this theory to be put into practice the research must continue.
Aside from fertility clinics, embryos can also be obtained from aborted fetuses, cloning and creating new ones (Goldstein 1). However, there is no need for this paper to explore those possibilities since it can only widen the gap between pro and anti-stem cell research. This paper is after proving that stem cell research can exist with or without the utilization of embryos obtained from perceived taboo procedures.
The previous section of the paper focused on using surplus embryos as a source of stem cells used in the research. In this section, the same premise is used to answer the ethical and moral concerns about stem cell research.
Anti-stem cell research advocates argue that manipulating embryos to develop into specific tissues is immoral and unethical since it strips the embryo its right to be born. But do embryos have the same rights as a living human being? According to Boethius, Aristotle and Aquinas (as cited in McCartney, 2002), embryos are still in a stage where it can potentially develop into two separate individuals.
Since the state of personhood is given when a unique individual with a rational nature has been established, an embryo cannot be considered as a person up until it is totipotent. However, embryos and embryonic stem cells are still pluripotent (Tangwa 451). This implies that they can still be used for stem cell research without violating a human’s right to live.
In addition, surplus embryos are faced with more inhumane treatment after a pregnancy by a couple has been achieved. Surplus embryos are facing different fates including being discarded, embryo adoption, donated to research and being preserved at very low temperatures (Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance, 2005). Having embryos preserved at very low temperatures is very expensive and the risk of thawing resulting to useless embryos is high, while embryo adoption is not a widely accepted practice since many couples refuse to donate or accept embryos due to emotional reasons.
This leaves the paper to discuss having the embryos discarded or donated for research. Once the fates of embryos are sealed they will be discarded by flushing them down the drain. Some will be incinerated while others will be exposed to the air for four days to die. Since, moralists view embryos as live entities; it is safe to say that these discarding methods are outright murder compared to stem cell research. As such, isn’t it more ethical to use surplus embryos to aid living people with illnesses rather than let them die a meaningless death?
Imagine, there are around 100 million individuals suffering from various debilitating diseases such as spinal cord injuries and Parkinson’s disease to name a few (Koutnik-Fotopoulos 105). This means that with every advancement made in the field of stem cell research the lives of millions of people can be saved. The multiplier effect can also be used to point out that the number of stem cell research beneficiaries can potentially increase.
The statements made above answered most of the concerns of people who are against the legalization of stem cell research. However, making people see the true colors of the research is only the beginning. All of the moves being taken by pro-stem cell research advocates lead to the legalization of the practice. This section of the paper will discuss why there is a need to take such action.
President Bush allowed limited funding for stem cell research projects. This allowed researchers to use the 72 lines of existing stem cells. But in May of 2003, most of the lines have become useless and only 11 lines remained useful for research. However, all of the lines have already been used in 2005 (Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance, 2005). This is only one of the reasons why stem cell research must be legalized. Researchers need new lines of stem cells otherwise the research will come to a full stop.
Funding is also an integral part of furthering the advancement of stem cell research which can be achieved if laboratories are supported by the people and by the government. It is only through continuous research that the technology can be mastered and flaw be ironed out.
The remaining questions about stem cell technology can only be answered if the research is allowed to continue. For example, the question on whether adult stem cells can promise the same results as embryonic stem cells is this in the process of being answered. Continuous experiments must be done in order to prove theories and provided logical explanations.
In conclusion, all questions regarding stem cell research can be answered in due time. But if the majority of the population is still living by there false beliefs, the fate of being able to aid the living through science might forever be buried in a sealed casket. Stem cell research is not out to persecute the “unborn”. Rather, it sets forth to alleviate the pain and suffering of the living.
Stem Cell Research should not be considered as playing God. Going into this issue will only muddle the answers that people are seeking. Rather, Stem cell research must be viewed as a means of helping those who can no longer themselves. Families are being shattered by devastating illness everyday.
If there is one consolation in knowing that one can no longer enjoy life to the fullest, it is knowing that there is still hope for them to one be able to regain what was taken from them by their illnesses. However, this hope will become an empty promise if stem cell research is to be thrown out the window. It is like throwing a good opportunity or even throwing away the lives of people away.