The battles between right and wrong, moral and immoral, “good” and “evil” are apparent in the greatest religious, political, and scientific debate of all time. There has not been a topic so contested, so controversial since the days of Darwin and his “evolutionary” theory. With the intent to save but the power to kill, stem cells may be the greatest advancement of human science and medicine; but they also may become the greatest failure. There are those who would do anything to advance stem cell research and unlock their potentially enlightening secrets; however, there are also those who would go to any means to halt and destroy progress, mentioning words such as “ethics,” “morals,” and “God.
” But what critics don’t understand are the potential benefits, as well as new, “ethical” sources, of stem cells. The unique abilities of stem cells have gained them the reputation of “the final cure”. True, there are gigantic hurdles and issues, one of which is the “ethics” debate, but once these issues are solved, stem cells have the ability to amaze the human race beyond our wildest dreams.
Stem cells truly can become the “final cure.” Ultimately, based on a cost-benefit analysis and their merits, stem cells are a viable option for long-term medical investment and research.
What are stem cells? The most simplistic definition is a cell that can differentiate into some or all of the different types of cells in the body. Differentiation is the process that leads stem cells to become any of the types of cells in the body. For example, a stem cell has the unique ability to transform into muscle cells or skin cells, based on where they are needed. The stem cell must first become part of a group of cells destined for certain tissues, then more specific differentiation kicks in (Scott 2006). Cells are given a signal to differentiate by genes, which create proteins that act as messengers (Scott 2006). Stem cells are the present in the human embryo, during the creation process, and eventually differentiate into the types of cells necessary to form a human body. The various types of stem cells (totipotent, pluripotent, and multipotent) have distinct differentiation capabilities. Totipotent stem cells have the ability to transform into any cell type found in the human body, as well as the ability to become an actual human being. Pluripotent stem cells have the ability to differentiate into any cell in the human body, but cannot become a human being. Induced pluripotent stem cells, a relatively recent scientific development, are cells that are artificially created from non-pluripotent stem cells, and are the focus of current research, due to their ability to avoid “ethical” controversy.
The last type of stem cell, which is extremely limited in its uses, but one of the focuses of current medical research, is the multipotent stem cell, which can differentiate only into a certain type of bodily cell, based on the genes it contains. They can be found in various different parts of the body including: the brain, bone marrow, digestive system, endothelium (blood vessels), liver, pancreas, skeletal muscle, and skin (ISSCR 2010). This type of stem cell is currently used to regenerate these lost bodily tissues. Due to the many different kinds of stem cells, there are also various places from where they can be derived. Adult or somatic stem cells come from fully-grown adult cells. For example, human skin contains cells that can transform only into new skin cells are somatic stem cells. Embryonic stem cells are pluripotent stem cells from human embryos during the fifth day of the embryo’s blastocyst formation, which have the ability to differentiate into any of the cell types in the body (Bellomo 2006). Currently, totipotent and pluripotent stem cells can only be found in the inner cell mass of a blastocyst, a hollow ball created from the initial fertilization of an egg. Their source is also what makes them so controversial and such a heated topic.
The acquisition of embryonic stem cells destroys the embryo and, many would argue, also the potential human being. However, there is another “type” of stem cell that strives to avoid all the controversy surrounding embryonic stem cells. The induced pluripotent stem cell (IPS) is a cell that is not naturally pluripotent, but reprogrammed from multipotent or adult stem cells. However, there are still several issues to be overcome before IPS cells can be substituted for true embryonic stem cells. For example, IPS cells can “age and die abnormally.” which limits their usefulness and effectiveness. The potential of this “new” type of stem cell is too great to be ignored, as they have the ability to avoid any religious, political, and ethical debate, since human embryos are not destroyed in the process of obtaining these cells.
There has perhaps not been a development so controversial in any arena, scientifically, religiously, and politically as the issue of stem cells. The main driving force behind the conflict of stem cells is their origin. To obtain pluripotent, medically usable stem cells, human embryos must be destroyed in the process. There are other processes to obtain pluripotent stem cells; however, embryonic stem cells are by far the most effective and feasible. The main argument behind research is the “unproven” abilities behind stem cells, and how research only “potentially” saves lives. There are three facets to the stem cell debate, political, religious, and scientific. Politically, stem cells are an extremely controversial issue, with the divided political parties of the United States standing on either side. In the past two presidential elections, the position of the federal government on stem cell research has been a major campaign issue. With the first successful isolation of stem cells in 1998, President Clinton was forced to make a decision on government funding for stem cells. Under his administration, Clinton interpreted the issue differently.
He came to the conclusion that the government could fund stem cell research as long as the government did not fund the part where embryos were destroyed (“Bush – Decision Points” 2010). This caused extreme controversy within the political and religious community. However, before his policy could be implemented, President Bush took office. Under Bush, he saw stem cells as an unethical issue but also a research project that could potentially save many lives. Therefore, his policy was that existing stem cell lines could be used for research, and the government would fund research for alternate sources of stem cells (“Bush – Decision Points” 2010). Again, there was extreme controversy about his decision. Some said that the decision was still unethical; others said he didn’t go far enough in funding. In the 2004 presidential election, stem cells were a main focus point. Democrats advocated stem cell research, while Republicans took the “ethical” stance and advocated the original strategy of funding alternate sources of stem cells. Under President Obama, the Bush administration’s moratorium on embryonic stem cell research was overturned.
This has again proved controversial, as a federal judge overturned his decision (Harris 2010). Proposition 71, otherwise known as the California Stem Cell Research and Cures Initiative, which granted stem cell research as a state constitutional right, and granted three billion in funding to specifically embryonic stem cell research. This proposition quickly attracted proponent and detractors,
and the political tension on the stem cell debate was shown here more than anywhere else. Proponents of the Proposition included many leading scientists, the state government, disease and patient advocate groups and the Democratic Party. Opponents included the Republican Party, conservative advocacy groups, and the Catholic Church (Bellomo 2006). This political debate over stem cells is part of the longstanding American debate over the ethics of elective abortion. And with partisan politics standing in the way of true progress, this political stem cell issue will likely be present for several years.
The religious facet of the debate is also based on the ethics of stem cells. Is it morally correct to sanction destroying one human being in order to potentially save thousands? In 2001, President George W. Bush visited Pope John Paul II to seek his opinion on the issue of stem cells. The Pope reaffirmed the Catholic Church’s stance on the protection of life. A second tenet of the religious argument stems from “regenerative medicine.” This is the idea that stem cells potentially can be used to create replacement parts for our body’s stirs up controversy within the community. According to Bellomo, they see it as nothing more than “high-tech cannibalism” (143). And much of the controversy and opposition to stem cells has their roots in religion. Many ethics and morals are based on a religious stance and stem cells, due to their nature, also fall under the guise of religious beliefs. The religious community’s argument is that all of God’s “children” must have equal rights to life. And destroying an embryo is exactly the same as killing a living human being.
The last facet of the stem cell debate stems from the scientific community. There is a huge debate on whether stem cells actually have the abilities described by supporters, and whether or not a viable, ethical source of pluripotent stem cells will be found. Opponents of stem cell research call it a mere “hope” that has no concrete evidence of success and will bear no fruit in the future. These opponents believe that stem cell research will ultimately fail, and they will not be able to cure any diseases. However, these opponents do not weigh the already very apparent stem cell therapies that are being currently used, and the tremendous success that these therapies have had.
The three facets of stem cell opponents, religious, political, and scientific all have different views on the subject. Religious opponents mention their pro-life beliefs, while the political battle centers on partisan politics and America’s longstanding battle over the ethics of selective abortion; finally, the scientific debate centers on the actual abilities and sources of stem cells. Currently, stem cells can “indefinitely” survive in culture; however, over time, they develop chromosomal abnormalities similar to some cancers (Bellomo 2006). This severely limits their usefulness and effectiveness.
Despite the many arguments of detractors of stem cells, they fail to grasp the reality behind stem cell research. Firstly, the embryos used for embryonic stem cell research will likely never develop into a human being, as these embryos are stored in embryo banks awaiting potential donors. Therefore, using them for research does not violate any ethics. And, while many may believe that destroying an embryo is the same as “murder”, it is not. The embryo has no conscience, has no emotions, no feeling. There is no killing involved, no ethical violation, since the embryo did not have “human” rights in the first place. And with over two million American contracting renal disease, eighty thousand needing organ transplants, with twenty-four thousand receiving them and six thousand dying while waiting, over eighteen million people with diabetes, twenty-five percent of the population affected with cancer, sixty-four million affected by heart disease, and a multitude of other genetic and metabolic disorders, along with AIDS, multiple sclerosis, and spinal diseases, it is clear that America is a “suffering” nation (Scott 2006). Stem cells have become a “common denominator” of hope (Scott 2006). Patients and their families suffer while the community bickers over the “ethics” of stem cell research and never thinks about the ethics of ignoring those families.
Pluripotent stem cells also potentially avoid another sort of ethical debate – cloning. With therapeutic medicine based on pluripotent stem cells and not totipotent cells, a human cannot be cloned for the sake of another. Only the parts or cells that are needed are grown. Secondly, other sources of adult stem cells, such as from umbilical cords, blood, pockets of bone marrow, under the skin, and in the brain, may potentially provide an alternative to those who morally object to the use of embryonic stem cells (Bellomo 2006). A large number of human trials are already being conducted with adult stem cells, with tremendous accomplishments; clearly, the current interest lies in adult stem cells, instead of the embryonic variety. While they might not be as pluripotent as their embryonic counterparts, their “one-track” orientation allows them to be admirably suited to a limited number of therapies. Another area of research is the induced pluripotent stem cell. According to Bellomo, several researchers have been able to persuade adult stem cells to behave pluripotently and produce other types of tissue (145). And, when a cost benefit analysis of stem cells is conducted, it is clear that the positives of stem cells clearly outweigh the negatives.
The one negative of stem cells is their potential ethical violation, completely based in human subjectivity, while the positives include an infinite list of curable disease. When the religious community calls out about “ethics,” they don’t weigh the positive “ethics” of stem cells. It is entirely ethical to use one embryo, that isn’t a human, and will probably never become a human, to conduct research to save thousands of lives and alleviate millions of people’s suffering. The problem behind stem cell detractor’s ontology and ethics is the favoring of one set of ontology and ethics over another. Why is one human favored over millions of others? Why is the research behind stem cells “unethical” when it could potentially save millions of humans and their families from death and suffering? This is the truth behind the stem cell debate, the idea of destroying one to save a thousand. In this case, destroying that one is justified to save and help the millions in the world. And even though many say that stem cells don’t provide a definitive answer, many trials have already been completed that prove their potency. Many patients have already been successfully treated with stem cells, and despite the hurdles that must be overcome, this glimmer of hope is all that is necessary to continue with research.
Two biotechnology companies in California have already gained FDA approval and have started to enroll people to conduct clinical trials of embryonic stem cells, and somatic (adult) stem cells have already been used to treat a wide variety of injuries, including Parkinson’s and spinal cord injuries. And, because of the nature of stem cells, they have the ability to cure almost any disease, including: heart, corneal, and spinal regeneration; autoimmune disease treatment (diabetes, Crohn’s , lupus, and multiple sclerosis); Parkinson’s disease treatment; Anemia; Cancer; Immune Deficiencies; and much more. According to once researcher, stem cells possess “the potential to address every single disease or condition that our species is heir to” (Bellomo 2006). Scott, in his book, poses seven questions about stem cells and their research. First, can somatic nuclear transfer create an embryonic stem cell line (induced pluripotent stem cells)? Although current research points to a yes, according to the South Korean experiment (Scott 2006), there are several problems to be overcome, such as premature cell death, and tumor-like cell growth. The second, third, and fourth questions focus on stem cells and their potential uses in curing Parkinson’s and diabetes and reversing cancer.
Scott concludes that many successful trials have been completed, and that the future of cures for these diseases is hopeful. Stem cells have the ability to generate into any type cell, and replace the cells affected by these diseases. However, there are still many technological advances to be made in the area of stem cells before they can be used medically. Firstly, a new, ethical source of stem cells must be found in order to avoid any controversy, or the world must accept the inherently ethical nature of stem cells; secondly, the science behind stem cells must be explored more fully to better understand their abilities as well as their effects on humans. Lastly, governmental support for stem cell research must continue, in order for these advances to be made. In the coming years, it is likely many more uses for stem cells will be found, and stem cells will become even more of a “holy grail” of medicine.
The future is incredibly exciting, but it will take time, hard work, and perseverance to get there. The future of stem cells is in our hands. The human race must make a choice: whether or not to pursue this research, whether or not to make use of the greatest potential development in the field of medicine. If “ethics” and “morals” always block potentially enlightening developments and risks are not willing to be taken, there will never be any advancement. There are times when utilitarianism must outweigh ethics, and vice versa, now is the time, with stem cells on the verge of “curing it all,” even “potential” is cause to wholeheartedly pursue this research.
Once the world gets past the gigantic stem cell “ethics” debate, and a viable alternative to embryonic stem cells are found, stem cells offer a potential opportunity for a “miracle” cure, with the ability to cure almost any disease mentioned above, and many more new diseases. Even though stem cells offer a promising look at the future of medicine, there are many things to be “ironed” out before stem cells will be able to be used in medicine. The debate behind stem cells must end, and the technical difficulties of stem cells must be solved.
These difficulties include rejection, genetic deficiencies of stem cells, and a reliable source of stem cells. Due to the nature of stem cells, and their ability to develop into any cell of the body, stem cells potentially have the ability to be the “miracle” cure that humans have been searching for. Although saying that stem cells are the “last” cure is currently too idealistic, stem cells potentially can cure many diseases, and alleviate much suffering. Once the warring factions of the stem cell controversy set aside their difference, stem cells can be fully appreciated, and the advancement of human medicine and the gratifying extension of human life that “stems” from them will be truly enlightening.
Word Count: 3442
Cite this Extended : Stem Cells
Extended : Stem Cells. (2016, May 20). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/extended-essay-stem-cells/