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The Benefits of Embryonic Stem Cell Research

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Sciences
Wordcount: 2000 words Published: 8th Feb 2020

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ETHICAL DILEMMA

INTRODUCTION

  One of the most crucial innovations in biomedicine to date is the recognition, isolation and culturing of embryonic stem cells.  Its unique ability to regenerate and its astounding capacity to change into any form of cell tissue warrant its virtue.  The culture of embryonic stem cell shows promise of tremendous potential for the development of medicine especially in the regeneration of cells that can treat debilitating illness or diseases that are otherwise hopeless or incurable (Rickard, 2013).  The cynicism of it though is that the discovery of its immense potential in progressing and making our lives better comes with the most controversial question about the value of life.  The destruction of the embryo when it is harvested results, in other words, the demise of a possible early sign of human life. The most poignant and striking question – Is someone else’s life more important, may it be to improve or extend worthy at the expense of possible human life?  This sort of issue is hard to ethically answered and even justified because we don’t even know the criteria for identifying the best possible answer.  What is clear is that it would be irresponsible not to answer this question in a manner that is not equal to its intricacy, significance, and value. The imagination of Embryonic stem cells enamors scientists and non-scientists alike. But what is it? Where does it come from and why is the scientific community working so hard to understand it? Human embryonic stem cells (ESCs) are pluripotent cells, capable of making any other cell in the body and these cells are found in very early human embryos, called blastocysts (Scadden & & Raaijmakers, 2017).  Most of the researchers use ESC’s from mice to study how blastocysts develop into adults, and they explore the signals that cue stem cells to become specialized cells (King & Perrin, 2014). Scientists have learned extensively about ESC’s development and diseases, like creating mice which has genetically modified ESC. It allows researchers to test how genes promote cellular functions and diseases.

THE BASIC ETHICAL PROBLEM

  The moral dilemma that ESC research presents are the two fundamental moral principles that we value so much, first is the relief of suffering and prevention of agony or pain; the other is the respect to the value of human life.  The tremendous potential of ESC in bringing about significant help and benefits in reducing debilitating diseases and disorders largely gratify the first moral principle. Meanwhile, the harvesting of human ESC contravenes the second principle,

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because it results in the destruction of human life.  This argument apparently cannot respect both tenets in ESC.  The question should be, which principle should be given priority in this dispute.  Should we give more importance to the first principle and let the human ESC research to progress because of its remarkable prospective benefits? Or should we give more emphasis to the second principle and stop human ESC research because it violates human life? This is the ethical dilemma generated by human embryonic stem cell research.

  Somatic gene therapy for a genetic disorder, generation of replacement tissues and organs for transplantation is the core of human ESC research and cultivation (Garbern & Lee, 2013).  These studies if realized would have a momentous event in the field of medicine and healthcare.  But we must call to mind that these are just theories, only potentials. We cannot still be hundred percent confident, as this is the nature of scientific discoveries and research.  ESC research is uncharted territory, and it is not easily predicted.  Advances and impediments can happen, and there is still uncertainty about the potential benefits of ESC, and that is worth keeping in mind the consequences of human ESC research.  There is another research program that uses adult stem cells, and they are taken from the brain, gut, bone marrow and other tissues (“Embryonic Stem cell,” 2017).  They are multipotent, which means these stem cells can differentiate into a limited number of different cell types like blood cells, neurons, and muscles (Araki et al.,2013).  But they don’t have the ability to differentiate into any type of cell or what we call pluripotent, in which human ESC can (Wert & Mummery, 2013). From the standpoint of our awareness and present biotechnology, adult stem cell only shows limited potential benefits in regenerative medicine as well as gene therapy. The collection and utilization of adult stem cells for medical purpose mostly does not have an ethical and biomedical problem, unlike human ESC.

To begin with, it does not involve destroying an embryo, tissues that are grown from an adult stem cell are compatible immunologically with the person from whom the stem cells are taken with no fear of tissue rejection.  The tissues made from human ESC for regenerative therapy are immunocompatible, thus the limitation.  Now, why did I emphasized this? The suggestion of solving the issue of immunocompatibility with human ESC is a process called “therapeutic cloning.”  By detaching and replacing the human oocyte or egg with the nucleus of a cell that was taken from the body of the tissue recipient, with his or her exact genetic characteristics (Kolios & Moodley, 2013).  Generating more ethical issue that involves creating an embryo that will eventually be destroyed in the process.  Another contentious argument is that allowing human ESC research to become a routine procedure will desensitize the scientific community, regulating bodies and the society in general to the destruction of life. Increase tolerance to loss of life may lead to society to accept controversial practices such as late-term abortion, or withdrawal of treatment for severely disabled babies.

THE VALUE OF THE EMBRYO

  What is the point of the other side of the moral equation?  What is wrong with destroying an embryo? Is it too grave as to override the benefits of ESC research that can render research morally impermissible?  With this argument, we must look at the moral status of the embryo, in virtue of it arguably possessing specific ethically dominant intrinsic characteristics.  It is unconventional to say that embryos as human life or at its very beginning, as well as to call it a person, human being or potential person.  These elucidations are morally weighted, which carry possible consequence about what we can and can’t do to embryos from a moral point of view.  Even though there are obvious physical differences between a developed human and embryos, the latter should still be regarded as a person, the argument is rooted in view of liberal democracy that a person deserves a robust moral respect and have the fundamental rights not to have their primary human interests reduce in certain ways most especially their interest in maintenance of life and bodily integrity, if embryos are human, then they too have the rights not to be harmed or killed.  A lot of people may argue that an embryo should be considered a person or human being.  Even though there is no clear line of transition in human development, embryos do not have psychological, physiological, emotional, intellectual properties that we associate with personhood.  Embryos in stem cell research as pre-implantation blastocysts, do not have consciousness, individuality, and reasoning.  Some have responses to this point of view, the embryos might not have currently exhibit properties of individuation, but they will, if allowed to develop and fulfill their potential, thus, still should be afforded the proper respect and dignity a person mandates.

CONCLUSION

  The promise of stem cell and embryonic stem cell research is astounding in my opinion, the fact that a tissue or organ can evolve from a single cell and various functional cells can be utilized to repair or replace a damaged organ can open an entirely new direction for healthcare and research.  I have worked in the cardiothoracic and neurointensive care unit for 20 plus years, the possibility of a stem cell therapy in becoming an effective treatment for MI and CVA is unimaginable.  To see patients, recover faster and alleviate human suffering is monumental, to say the least.  These benefits should be enough, in my opinion, remove the ban on stem cell and ESC research by the public and politicians.  The insularity of this medical progress prevents us from realizing the benefits of this technology to humanity.  The controversies and ethical issues surrounding the research prevents it from continuing and flourishing.  The reasoning that embryos should not be subjected to analysis because they will become human beings, in my opinion, is fallacious, if that were the case, then any procedure like fertility treatments that involve the manipulation of excess embryos should be prohibited.  The statement that an embryo is a potential person is not convincing enough for me, instead, it is a very obscure reason, does this not equate into saying that male sperm is a “potential person” also? If a person is against stem cell and ESC research and is faced with a situation of saving a loved one’s life or a petri-dish embryo, what would they choose?  The answer is obvious, if those same embryos can be used to save another life, it will make those embryos much more useful and worthier of respect? There is more beneficence than there is harm.

References:

  • Araki, R., Uda, M., Hoki, Y., Sunayama, M., Nakamura, M., Ando, S., . . . Abe, M. (2013, January 09). Negligible immunogenicity of terminally differentiated cells derived from induced pluripotent or embryonic stem cells. Retrieved September 22, 2018, from https://www.nature.com/articles/nature11807
  • Embryonic Stem Cells: Where do they come from and what can they do? (2017). Retrieved September 22, 2018, from https://www.eurostemcell.org/embryonic-stem-cells-where-do-they-come-and-what-can-they-do
  • Garbern, J. C., & Lee, R. T. (2013, June 06). Cardiac Stem Cell Therapy and the Promise of Heart Regeneration. Retrieved September 22, 2018, from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1934590913002014
  • King, N. M., & Perrin, J. (2014, July 07). Ethical issues in stem cell research and therapy. Retrieved September 22, 2018, from https://stemcellres.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/scrt474
  • Kolios, G., & Moodley, Y. (2013, December 13). Introduction to Stem Cells and Regenerative Medicine. Retrieved September 22, 2018, from https://www.karger.com/Article/Abstract/345615
  • Rickard, M. (2013, February 19). Key Ethical Issues in Embryonic Stem Cell Research. Retrieved September 22, 2018, from https://www.aph.gov.au/About_Parliament/Parliamentary_Departments/Parliamentary_Library/Publications Archive/CIB/cib0203/03cib05
  • Scadden, D. T., & Raaijmakers, M. (2017, June 8). Overview of Stem Cells. Retrieved September 22, 2018, from https://www.uptodate.com/contents/overview-of-stem-cells?csi=f27aaff8-7aa1-4be7-91fe-0ee3956657c7&source=contentShare
  • Wert, G. D., & Mummery, C. (2013, April 01). Human embryonic stem cells: Research, ethics and policy | Human Reproduction | Oxford Academic. Retrieved September 22, 2018, from https://academic.oup.com/humrep/article/18/4/672/596542

 

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