Stem cells: Crime or cure

The scientific world is advancing by leaps and bounds. Every day Scientifics resolve problems that apparently had no solution. In late 1998, after intensive experimental work, a group of researchers at the University of Wisconsin (USA) made the first culture of human embryonic stem cells. From this point, stem cells have been presented as the great hope of the new century. The advances in recent years are a product of research based on molecular and cellular biology which have revealed the enormous therapeutic potential that stem cells may have for the treatment of many diseases that today have no cure. On the contrary, among many other obstacles, is the eternal battle between good and evil, right and wrong, utilitarianism and ethics. In the globalized world we live, everything is geared to seek the greatest happiness for as many people as possible believing that the value of a thing or an action is what determines its usefulness. The controversy over stem cell research is mainly based on whether human life in the form of an embryo less than two weeks after conception is a human being or not and if is ethical to use them to save other people's lives. In spite of the belief held by some people and scientists I think that human life starts at conception. My opinion regarding this issue is that humanity has too much to win from stem cell research to be putting that many obstacles in the way. I think that stem cell therapies will lead to a medical revolution as important as was the discovery of antibiotics; therefore, it is crucial to investigate stem cells to improve human welfare.

A publication on the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services website, points out that our bodies are made of cells of different types, for example: blood, muscle, nervous cells, and so forth. However, we often forget that all these different cells arose from a single cell, the fertilized egg. The article argues that an egg fertilized by a sperm can generate a complete organism. After several cycles of cell division, these stem cells begin to specialize, forming a hollow sphere of cells called the blastocyst from where we obtain Stem cells. Stem cells are the only ones that have the capacity to become any tissue or organ of the body. Stem cells are considered also a stage; in fact, it is the first stage in the process known as cellular differentiation, whose importance lies in that it can evolve to any one of the more than 200 different cells that make up the human organism and tissues.

Lawrence Goldstein, a professor in the Department of Cellular and Molecular Medicine at the University of California, San Diego, School of Medicine and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator proposes that the stem cells are derived primarily from two sources: embryos in the early stages of development and the reserves held within the adult organism to repair damage that occurs in tissues. That said, the bone marrow has proved, so far, to be the best source of stem cells within the adult organism. Goldstein also presents sub claims to emphasize that whatever the source is, stem cells face a common problem in laboratory culture. In order for these cells to proliferate and obtain sufficient material for therapeutic use, they have to be grown under very specific conditions and they are exposed to many complications. Some of these complications can be Infections, cancer, rejection, genetic defects, and so forth. Goldstein also argues that the potential medical benefits justify the use of stem cells; therefore, he advocates lifting the ban on government funding of stem cell research.

The party in favor of stem cell research argues that its benefits outweigh the social, economic and sacrifice of embryonic life. Raymond Barglow, a psychologist and a political activist, affirms in his article Therapeutic Cloning Can Save Lives emphasizes that there are embryos that will be destroyed anyway, why not to use them more efficiently. In vitro fertilization generates large numbers of unused embryos that are isolated for their destruction. Also, abortion is legal in several countries, a logical argument that follows from this is that if destroying embryos in this way is legal; why not allow more useful work from them. The strongest argument in favor of stem cell research, as opposed to the ethical reasons to destroy human embryos, is that although the Catholic Church affirms that the state of humanity begins at the moment of fertilization, science dictates that the first vestige of humanity is not revealed until the fourteenth day. The fact is that the embryos used for research usually have five to seven days after fertilization; therefore, are not a human beings. Embryos are just human cells that can be used to save lives. The author exerts an urgent tone to catch the attention of the reader to spread awareness about this issue.

The counterpart of this discussion formed by the anti-abortion groups, some religious conservative citizens claim that using cells from embryos is unethical because it destroys life. They argue that an embryo is a human being and therefore it should be valued as such. Dennis P. Hollinger who is the Vice Provost, college Pastor, and Professor of Christian ethics at Messiah College in Grantham, Pennsylvania claims that this is the ethos in which we now find ourselves. We must recognize it for what it is and bear witness to a better way. This reasoning is based on the fact that once an egg is fertilized it will become a fully developed person, unless the development is interrupted somehow. This goes hand in hand with religious doctrines which assert that conception marks the beginning in which the soul is present in human life. Based on this reasoning, people against stem cell research argue that human life is undeniable and can't be involuntarily destroyed to save another life. The harvest of this type of stem cells involves destroying a human being in its earliest stage of development. This entity is growing their cells are multiplying in order to create a mature human being, no other result may come out of this, apart from an early death. Therefore, "the destruction of an embryo is, undoubtedly, the destruction of human life." (Hollinger)

I think we can all agree that, the amount of research to determine the therapeutic capacity of stem cells is proportional to the hopes placed in them. The research is particularly intense in degenerative diseases for which there is no treatment such as Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, and Diabetes. These illnesses are characterized by the death of cells, neurons in the case of the first two and pancreas' cells in the last. So the possibility of regenerating this loss by injecting stem cells is extremely promising and attractive. However, so far that has not been achieved yet; but, there is strong evidence that this strategy is effective and enforceable. I strongly believe that it does not matter what has to be done to continue and improve the research on Stem cells. While we debate about morality thousands of people are dying from incurable diseases that can have a cure with successful stem cells researching.

Scientists believe that stem cell research may lead to discovering cures for a myriad of diseases that afflict us. There is no doubt that these new discoveries will mark a primary guideline in the field of new therapies in medicine. The picture presented is the enormous potential of stem cells as a source of new tissue for therapeutic uses in the repair of damaged tissue and organs for a wide range of currently incurable disorders. Looking to the future, Scientists are studying the possibility to turn the clock of biological development, and converting an already differentiated somatic cell, for example a simple skin cell, to a cell that behaves and acts like an embryo that is capable of once again becoming a heart , bone, neuron cell or otherwise. With this step, described as revolutionary by the scientific community, regenerative medicine is closer to its ultimate goal: the ability to create human tissues to repair damaged organs from a patient's own genetic material, thus avoiding any kind of rejection. The breakthrough represents a turn in the investigation because it allows obtaining stem cells without resorting to the techniques of cloning and using embryos. This will also avoid the ethical and logistical obstacles that have led many scientists to stagnation and in some cases, have been deprived of funding. With this finding, all the controversy about the use of embryos is as a lump of sugar that dissolves in water and may soon leave obsolete the technique of therapeutic cloning. The research is very promising and is rapidly advancing, but much remains to be done to achieve real clinical applications.

Works Cited

  • Barglow, Raymond. "Therapeutic Cloning Can Save Lives." At Issue: The Ethics of Human Cloning. Ed. John Woodward. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 2005. Opposing Viewpoints Resource Center. Gale. Central Piedmont Community College. 26 Feb. 2010
  • Goldstein, Lawrence S.B. "Fetal Stem Cell Research May Improve Medicine." Opposing Viewpoints: Techology and Society. Ed. Auriana Ojeda. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 2002. Opposing Viewpoints Resource Center. Gale. Central Piedmont Community College. 27 Feb. 2010
  • Hollinger, Dennis P. "Embryonic Stem Cell Research Is Not Ethical." At Issue: The Ethics of Genetic Engineering. Ed. Maurya Siedler. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 2005. Opposing Viewpoints Resource Center. Gale. Central Piedmont Community College. 28 Feb. 2010
  • Saunders, William. "Therapeutic Cloning Is Immoral." At Issue: The Ethics of Human Cloning. Ed. John Woodward. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 2005. Opposing Viewpoints Resource Center. Gale. Central Piedmont Community College. 28 Feb. 2010
  • Stem Cell Basics . In Stem Cell Information [World Wide Web site]. Bethesda, MD: National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2009. 28 Feb. 2010

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