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Stem Cell Research: Just A Bad Idea

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Jade Chun


English 102

24 November, 2006

Embryonic Stem Cell Research: Just a Bad Idea

Embryonic stem cell research has been an issue of great controversy ever since it began. In 1998 a group of scientists led by Dr. James Thompson at the University of Wisconsin developed a way to isolate and grow stem cells in order to do research (Stem Cell Basics). Many studies have shown that success in embryonic stem cell research could lead to therapies that could prevent and cure various life threatening and crippling ailments. Genetic disorders, as well as congenital defects could possibly be prevented. Spinal cord injuries, Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's and other ailments might be treated and even cured. There has never been an argument that this research may have a potential to help in the advancement of modern medicine, but in order for this to be possible extensive amounts of research must be conducted and sacrifices must be made.

Although there is no doubt that certain diseases could be treated if this therapy is successful, there are contrasting viewpoints concerning the issue. Currently, scientists all over the nation are struggling to gain clearance to experiment with embryonic stem cells. On one side arguers say that embryonic stem cell research is morally acceptable because any therapy that can lead to curing serious diseases is beneficial to the common good. They argue that embryonic stem cells are not yet individuals therefore they have no soul and no rights to speak of. Even the arguers that believe stem cells could possibly be considered individuals, would say that such a small sacrifice would be worth the advances at stake. They say that if such a leap can be made in medicine, then it is the scientists' and doctors' duty to do everything in their power to make people well. Advocates of stem cell research would argue that it would be unethical not to proceed with this research. For every advocate of stem cell research there is an equally passionate critic.

Those that oppose embryonic stem cell research argue that every being has a soul and rights equal to any other individual. Most of these critics believe that from the moment of conception the embryo has a soul. And even those who question the presence of a soul, still argue that this research robs that embryo of potential life, a right that all should possess. Other critics oppose the research for a completely different reason. Some are just concerned with population control. The earth is already overpopulated and if people aren't dying, and people keep being born, then eventually, there is going to be a bit of a problem. All these arguments raise somewhat valid points. The arguers' reasoning is clear, but not only is embryonic stem cell research unethical, but it also poses a major threat to world population and may cause other serious problems in the future.

A stem cell is an unspecialized cell that can give rise to various different types of cells. Embryonic stem cells are so useful because they are pluripotent. This means that they can specialize into almost any cell type. They can become bone cells, blood cells, tissue cells and many other cell types. Embryonic stem cells are more valuable because they have been proven easier to duplicate in a laboratory setting than adult stem cells. This is important because in order to use stem cell therapy there must be a large amount of the cells available. Also adult stem cells are limited by the types of cells they can specialize into. Stem cell research is conducted by first dupicating, or "growing", the pluripotent cells. After the required amount is created, the cells are "planted" in the desired tissue area. Then scientists wait for and hope that the cells will specialize into the required tissue type. If the therapy is successful, after several treatments the tissue should be regrown or repaired.

One of the main arguments about the research is whether or not there is a soul present within the embryo and whether or not it is an individual. Unfortunately there is no way to prove either argument either way. The answer of there being a soul present lies solely in the person being asked. Some people don't even believe in souls, others have such a strong belief that they would say an animal or any number of lowly living things have souls. There is no way of proving that anything has or lacks a soul. The question of individuality is even trickier. By definition an embryo is an individual. In the dictionary, individual is defined as follows: a distinct, indivisible entity; a single thing, being, instance, or item(Dictionary). To most people the definition would prove that an embryo is an individual. To a scientist however, this definition would disprove the claim. Since a stem cell is usually used before the first 14 days of conception, the cells of the blastocyst have not yet differentiated into certain tissue types. From a scientific point of view, how could the embryo be an individual if, for all anyone knows, the cells could split into 2 or 3 or more fetuses? How could a cell at this stage have any sort of individuality? The definition serves as proof for both arguments.

There are many different reasons why some arguers defend stem cell research. The first reason is that this research offers much promise of advancing medicine and curing people of painful and debilitating diseases. They pose the question: Isn't it worth any sacrifice, within reason, to advance medical technology and ease people of pain and suffering? Scientists say that this research will give them a clearer view into cellular processes, congenital defects, and cancers. Replacement therapy using these cells also has the potential to treat Parkinson's disease and heart disease caused by cellular dysfunction (Embryonic 1). Advocates for this claim argue that this research is for the common good and that many people can benefit from it. They say that people will live years longer than they have in the past.

Another reason people argue in favor of this research is because, in their eyes, no sacrifice is being made. They argue that embryos are not yet human beings with rights. At this point they are nothing more than a cluster of cells. Those that share this view say that if people willingly donate their embryos for research then there should be nothing considered immoral about it. They also point out that most cells used for research are either donated or were going to be discarded in an abortion clinic anyway. They argue that if aborted embryos can be used proactively, and to scientific benefit them they should be. Advocates also claim that the cells don't suffer.



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