Essay/Stem

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This essay is an original work by Seekcommon. Please comment only on the talk page.


I noticed on the main page the news item about adult stem cells and the byline indicating how (in the opinion of the author(s)) the "abortion" industry "continues to insist on unsuccessful embryonic stem cell research in the United States" and it continues to say how "In the case of a recently successful adult stem cell project for diabetics, "the research was done in Brazil because U.S. doctors were not interested in the approach." Nonsense. I am not a researcher in that area, but know enough to understand that scientists go where the data leads them. If adult stem cells will work like other stem cells, people will try them and such efforts continue. It is utter nonsense to say that doctors in the US are not interested in that approach - perhaps they know a few things the author(s) do not know.

No, embryonic stem cell research is not wrong in any sense. It is one of the stupidest issues there is. I can end the debate in two sentences. Listen hard and listen well (or read, rather...). A 4-day-old embryo consisting of liquid in a petri dish is NOT a person. Period. It is, as I just said, nothing more than liquid in a petri dish. No limbs, no organs, no blood, no tiny little fetus face, none of those images you may have in your mind. Those are all characteristics of a FETUS. It can certainly be argued that fetuses at different stages in development are human life given that they resemble more and more a miniature form of an infant. But the embryos used in stem cell research are just a cup of liquid! That's it! They only have 50-100 cells! It's absolutely absurd! The idea that the value of that liquid is greater than the suffering of millions of conscious, living people who may be miserable stuck in a wheel chair for their entire lives or have incurable diseases is absolutely asinine. And before somebody gives me some bullsh*t about how embryonic stem cell research can't cure those things, don't even go there. That is a petty justification for your views. It won't produce an immediate cure, but it is a definite possibiliy in the next decade or so. Don't let the Christian Right fool you into thinking this is an issue about "life". It is an issue about - no, it's not even an issues at all. There is no issue. --TheLoneLiberal 10:14, 20 May 2008 (EDT)

It amazes me how much the media sings the tune for embryonic stem cells when zero has been accomplished. Probably has to do more with the Bush bashers (his veto), than any logical reason for promoting a big big maybe. John Kerry claims embryonic stem cells saved a little old mouse. Is that not the most pathetic augument ever--jp 16:00, 17 April 2007 (EDT)?

^ I don't care what the media or John Kerry think. I care about whether or not stem cells have value. Read my post and you will see, as you say, "logical" reasons for stem cell research. User:Cthx

Research in medicine is slow and the medications and treatments we enjoy today are the result of years of painstaking efforts by people all around the world. When we examine history, we realize that there was horror at scientists/medical doctors interested in dissection of cadavers, experimentation on animals - certain religious groups do not believe anything other than their faith can cure all illl - and oppose all modern medical interventions. There is slow progress being made on understanding how stem cells (adult and embryonic) can be programmed/taught to develop along particular lines for transplantation/therapy/ and yes, initial progress is usually demonstrated in small animals, particular mice. So, NO, it is NOT a pathetic argument whatsoever, it indicates we are making progress. User:Seekcommon
I heard PETA is one of the biggest organizations against animal testing.Jaques 19:42, 18 April 2007 (EDT):::: Yes, I have heard report of their atrocities also. To many who belong to PETA/ human life is far less (or not important) than any/all animal life - they would take human life to protect animals, what I understand. Despicable for sure. User:Seekcommon

Stem cell research is a vital part of a growing scientific and medic commune that hopes to eraticate such diseases as Alzheimers. The unfortunate thing is that FETAL stem cells are incapable of providing such results. However, ADULT stem cells have already cured 60 some odd diseases and cured parallysis in several test subjects. The thought of farming children like livestock is barbaric. To really just grow children for spare parts is inhumane. Besides, trials involving FETAL stem cells have had side effects similar to being jolted with lightning include spaztic convulsions that does not dissipate. Its harmful to both the humans who were involved in clinical trials and the humans they were harvested from. My response does not come as a Republican, or a Bushie, but as a concerned citizen of Earth who feels more can be accomplished without sacrificing the next generation. P.S. Aztecs sacrificed children and we called them barbaric. Dairlyxed13

It IS barbaric to "grow" children for spare parts, that is not the intention, as fas as I know, of the people who pursue embryonic stem cell research. It is not true that ALL stem cells are equivalent, from what I understand. While attempts are being made to reprogram stem cells from any source, the current state of the art/science seems to be that only embryonic stem cells seem capable of differentiating into any tissue/organs. Again, from what I understand, the clamor is to be able to use cells which were going to be destroyed - or use cells that were discarded naturally - e.g. when there is a miscarriage ... again, my limited understanding. Nature/God is far more "cruel" if you can say that when it comes to terminating pregnancies - it happens at far higher rates than deliberately induced abortions, again, what I gather. Humans are always pushing the envelope - we are always seeking means to improve and yes, protect lives - starting with drugs to kill bacteria/viruses, to deliberate surgical interventions to transplantation and so on. We should ALWAYS be careful in what we pursue, yet, where the lines we must NOT cross are not clear to all and hence the controversies. I do not for a minute believe that the right to choose people are simply waiting to kill babies/unborns - OR that the right to life people are not sympathetic to the victim of rape or incest or unwanted pregnancies. I just wish that each side would understand what it is that they seek and work towards the common goal of reducing living, human suffering and not add to the sufferings. User:Seekcommon

I have nothing against stem cell research... non-embryonic stem cell research, that is. Stem cell research using non-embryonic sources (umbilical cord blood, placenta, bone marrow, and adult skin, blood, brain, and body fat cells) is ethically fine. No human lives are destroyed. If stem cells can be obtained from living humans without harming them, then why are embryonic stem cells so sought after. Embryonic stem cells are pluripotent, meaning they can become almost any type of cell. Adult stem cells are multipotent, meaning they can only make cells from a closely related group of cells. For example, one type of stem cell could make RBC's, WBC's, platelets, etc., but not nervous tissue. For this reason, embryonic stem cells are more desirable. However, we must face the ethical realities. Is it right to take one person's life to save another's? Opinion changes from person to person, but I believe life begins at the moment of conception. There is no reason why that baby should be used for stem cell research. It is not ethically justifiable. However, I know that this will come up - what about aborted babies? Should we "waste" the babies that mothers do not want, or should we "harvest" their stem cells to help other people? My opinion - one wrong does not justify another. Just because a baby was aborted doesn't make it right to use it for stem cell research. Additionally, ponder this... if the government were to allow aborted babies to be used for stem cell research, the mothers might get paid... if they were paid, people would have many babies with someone on purpose so that they can destroy the life of an individual to make money. I would like to see everyon elses reaction to this, as well as the question, "Should we "waste" the babies that mothers do not want, or should we "harvest" their stem cells to help other people?" So quite simply, it is never morally or ethically justifiable to kill one human being to benefit another human being. Sooo... next topic, stem cells that have been discarded. Illegal. Why? Well, allowing discarded stem cells, as in stem cells from an aborted fetus, seems to condone abortion, because the cells are being used for a "good purpose." Basically, one wrong does not justify another. Just because the baby was already aborted does not make using the embryos for their stem cells fine. Because then you might have people willingly abort their babies knowing they will be used for science. Or even more disturbing - a mother "growing" babies that she aborts to use stem cells to heal the sickness of herself or others. Not something we want to support. Thus, by making using even discarded embryonic stem cells illegal, a line is being drawn. Under no circumstances are embryonic stem cells fine. Because when you make exceptions, more and more get made until possibly the thing itself becomes legal. I had thought the same thing you do once, but then realized that its morally wrong. One wrong does not justify another. About the jail time: if it was just a fine, rich doctors could easily continue to use the ESC's without getting hurt too bad. People who kill the life of a human to help another are criminal. Another example: euthanasiasts - they take the life of a patient to ease their suffering and make the lives of those suffering with them emotionally better. WHY IS MURDER JUSTIFIABLE FOR SCIENCE?? IT SHOULD NOT BE SO!

Pro-life argument for the use of embryonic stem cells

It is significant to note that, for the purposes of in-vitro fertilization (IVF), far more embryos are created than could ever possibly be used. Yes, life does begin at conception; therefore a fertilized egg does constitute a human life. However, a life spent frozen in a freezer is simply a waste. Personally, I would rather contribute to humanity--and the study of human disease--and thereby save lives, than live as a ball of cells in a freezer.

It is the imperative, provided by God, that all people honor the sanctity of life. And, while an embryo cannot consent to being used in research, there seems to me to be no higher calling than a life spent serving the good of humanity. Even if that life is simply spent as cells in a petri dish.

Allowing the creation of embryonic stem cell lines from leftover embryos--which are, I must stress, living people--gives them a chance to live a life in the service of the sick, rather than simply being wasted when they get freezer burn (even frozen embryos do go bad after some time) or are otherwise discarded.

Discarding embryos is murder. Without a womb to allow them to develop a body, allowing them to grow and be used in research is the nearest we can come to giving them a life.


- User:JCasto

your argument obviously brings about the topic of what is defined as being human. Personally, a small clump of cells that has a large chance of not developing properly, is not what I view as a life. Besides what about embryos that are stored by couples who have successfully undergone invitro fertilization? Those embryos will never be used and they will probably be thrown away. Why not use those embryos for stem-cell research? JCasto, are you willing to save the "life" of an embryo at the cost of prolonging of the suffering of millions of people? - User:comatose raccoon
"Personally, a small clump of cells that has a large chance of not developing properly, is not what I view as a life" How can you say something like that? To me that is sicker than any story of the Holocaust or the Gulags. A fertilized egg under normal conditions becomes more cells, and even more cells. It is simple science. What do you think you are? You are a group of cells with just a few more years progress. Just because you may die in a car crash tommorow doesn't mean I'll shoot you now and harvest your body parts for someone in need of a heart or a lung. How do you justify that your life is more important than someone elses? God created all human beings with worth and dignity from the moment of conception. Also just because, "Those embryos will never be used and they will probably be thrown away" doesn't make anything right. Have you never heard that two wrongs don't make a right? These are HUMAN BEINGS that we are talking about. It is not our right or privelage to make the decision of life or death for them. Isn't that what a murderer is, someone who decides that another human is not deserving of life? --CRD 21:53, 11 July 2007 (EDT)
But, CRD, all of your arguments could just as easily be applied to organ donation. The possibility of harvesting organs could lead to a decision not to continue life support. There have been cases where people were killed for their organs. Should we thus conclude that organ donation leads to evil and should be prohibited?
--BenP 09:59, 4 May 2008 (EDT)

Stem cell research is bad. Embryos are living beings.--Edtropolis 16:04, 22 June 2007 (EDT)

I believe that abortion is wrong, as it is the taking of a human life. However, using discarded embryos and aborted fetuses for stem cell research is not the same as condoning abortion. If the embryo or fetus is no longer alive, harvesting its stem cells is extremely similar to using the organs of a deceased person to save a living one, or using a cadaver for scientific research. --User:ac09

Are embryos definitely living things? I think it depends on where you define life begins e.g. conception or after-birth.

Let me use the environment as an analogy. We're all agreed that both humans and trees are living things. Humans come from embryos just as much as tree originate from seeds. How many of you would classify a seed as the same sort of living thing that an embryo is?

Seeds are allowed to be experimented on so why not embryos? Aren't trees the same "perfect work of God" that humans are? -- User:jamieallen


YES for stem cells. Allow me to explain:

  • You are a killer. By scratching your head you are killing bacteria on your scalp. By eating, you are killing animals (or in the case of the vegetarian, plants). By walking on grass you are committing genocide due to the bugs that you squash. And you are shameless about it. Jesus condones killing. His father was a carpenter (tree-killer), his friends were fishermen, and the bread he ate during his Last Supper contains the grains of thousands of different wheat plants slaughtered en masse to make bread. Therefore, life does not necessarily need to be morally protected. Keep in mind that the word necessarily is important. After reading this, it would still seem that killing stem cells is wrong, due to them being human life.
  • Why is human life so valuable? Generally, it is widely considered that human life is valuable. Why? One could say that human life is valuable because it is human. That, however, is an arbitrary distinction. The value of an object is derived, not from its name, but from its properties. Therefore, human life is valuable because of the properties that humans have. Here are a few:
The ability to feel pain
The ability to think
The ability to have emotions

Embryos, however, have none of the above properties. Therefore, they do not have the value of a human.

  • But what about God? God assigning embryos as valuable because they are so doesn't prevent this from still being arbitrary. Besides, how do you know that God does value them? After all, it'd be hard to find out unless you've had a chat with him. And even then, I doubt that God would sanction stem cells due to the arguments posted above.
  • But don't embryos have potential? Why stop at embryos? Why even stop at conception? By that same logic, having a period or failing to impregnate everyone near you would be tantamount to murder. Potential for value is everywhere, but that doesn't mean that the potential has the value of the target.
  • But it's just not right?! If you have any other objections, please post.
  • Now, we can logically conclude that spending low-value embryos for high-value scientific knowledge (even if that knowledge isn't a cure to a disease, it still has more value than the non-sensing, non-sapient embryo: e.g. greater knowledge of human development) is not only morally right, but morally imperative. To research stem cells.

Q.E.D. User:Cthx

"By that same logic, having a period or failing to impregnate everyone near you would be tantamount to murder" There is no potential that a woman will get pregnant walking down the street. A human being is concieved through sexual interaction (Bio 101) and becomes and embryo and thus an infant and then an adolescant, etc. That is the normal path of human development. There is no "potential" involved. Uninhibited by natural or artificial means that embreyo becomes an adult like you and me. Just because it is not at that stage yet does not mean it does not have the same value as a human life. In a casualty report, do you count the children as half a person because they are not yet quite as developed as you are? That is the same ignorant line of thought that has been fought for years under the cover of racism. People were saying that because you do not look like me, I have the right to kill and test on you like a lab rat (yes, test, think Hitler). There is no "low-value embryo", you were at one point an embreyo, if someone had decided for you that your life was not important (because I can throw you in a freezer and use you for science) then you would not even be here today breathing with a set of lungs or thinking with that brain that came from those first egg and sperm. If you are a God fearing man (I make no assumption), do you believe that you are not given the grace of God and the right to Heaven until you are fully capable of grasping and believing your faith? If so, half the world would be out of luck! Our God is a loving and unconditional God and he loves us from the moment of conception, where from that point he will guide our lives in the direction he intends it to go. Either through science or religion (I believe them to be one in the same because God created it all) an embreyo MUST be considered to be a human being, otherwise you are making the grave mistake of denying the life of another human being, which is known as murder.--CRD 23:11, 18 July 2007 (EDT)

Fairly recently it was discovered that stem cells could be obtained from umbilical cords, pleasing both sides of this debate, I would assume. Does anyone object to this? User:HKK

No, I want to deliberately kill babies. Seriously? If umbilical cord cells are easiest to obtain/highest quality, then YES I support umbilical cord cells over embryonic. If, however, they are of inferior quality (i.e. can't be made to specialize) or are too hard to get (i.e. they're needles in haystacks), then embryonic cells are better. User:Cthx

From what I've gatherd stem cells from cord blood are still a new idea but they show enormous potential. Scientists have also found a way to extract stem cells from embryos without destroying the embryo. I also support research of embryonic stem cells (especially when there are so many to be gained through things like invitro fertilization that would have otherwise been disposed of), however in light of recent scienific breakthroughs this debate is becoming much less necessary, as there are now multiple ways to satisfy both sides.--HKK

Great! User:Cthx

Rational Use

I'm not so keen on creating an embryo specifically for the purposes of destroying it in order to harvest the stem cells. It just seems to be in poor taste, to be honest. I see nothing wrong, however, with parents donating unused embryos for research, or with fertility clinics donating abandoned embryos.

Many embryos have been "abandoned" by their parents. That is to say, the treatment the embryos were created for succeeded in producing a pregnancy. Fertility treatments usually require the production of several embryos, only some of which will be implanted (they sometimes keep a few left over in case they need to try a second time). When embryos are left over, the parents have 4 options: discard them, donate them to other couples, pay several hundred dollars per year to keep them in storage, or donate them for medical research. However, often the parents will start by paying for storage and then disappear; the payments stop and the embryos are abandoned. This accounts for approximately 10% of the embryos currently in storage.

Most fertility clinics, and their owners, are uncertain about the ethical and legal ambiguities involved with abandoned embryo retention/destruction, so they will take on the burden of financing the continued storage themselves.

Consider these points:

  • 1) Whenever an in vitro fertilization procedure takes place, several embryos are created, only one (or two or mmmaybe three) of which will ever produce a fetus. So, any time these treatments take place, several embryos are created for the purpose of eventually being destroyed. There's no way around this.
  • 2) No one in this thread, that I have seen at least, has argued that the in vitro fertilization procedure itself is unethical, therefore there is clearly some level of acceptance of the fact that embryos will be created for the purpose of being destroyed. (Now, if you want to argue that IVF itself is an unethical procedure, that's another story.)
  • 3) An embryo that is destroyed has served no useful function. It has not produced a fetus, it has not furthered the cause of humanity; it was essentially created and destroyed in vain.
  • 4) Plenty of embryos are already being donated for the purposes of stem cell research. It has happened, is happening, and will continue to happen. (The one restriction is that Federal Government funds can not be used to support it.)
  • 5) An embryo donated for research has served some purpose. Its existence was not in vain and it stands the chance of possibly contributing to major medical breakthroughs.

Those points being made, I fail to see why abandoned embryos should not be donated. Their parents gave up their right to decide the embryos' fates and essentially left it up to the clinics. I would argue that the fate of an abandoned embryo falls to the owner(s) of the clinic they are stored at, and any of the 4 options I listed above (destruction, adoption, continued storage, research donation) should be available to the clinic the same as it would be to the parents.--Porthos 10:35, 14 August 2007 (EDT)

As stated by Porthos, the embryos that would just got to waste otherwise are better put to stem cell research, as it means they have a use. Stem cells have incredible potential, the idea that we could replace body parts is incredible. We are learing to replicate the miricles of jesus, just as his disciples did after he returned to heaven, in what way is this contrary to the Bible? Didn't jesus want us to be his disciples? Jesusfollower 22:16, 13 April 2008 (EDT)

Stems cells are both difficult to work with and to understand. It may surprise some of you, but established embryonic stem cell lines have been around since the late seventies. The line I do some work with, HEK-293 cells, was established from a kidney from an aborted fetus in 1978, in the Netherlands. It's gruesome to think about, but HEK cells (HEK stands for human embryonic kidney cells) are used throughout neurobiology and electrophysiology for experimentation. The problem with stem cells is keeping them as stem cells - they like to change, depending on their environment. They also have a high probability of becoming cancerous outside of the body (i.e. in tissue culture), due to over expression of telomerase. We don't know much about what makes a stem cell differentiate, that is why so many of the original stem cell lines established in the US are useless now - they became contaminated, or differentiated. How we get more stem cells is a difficult question - arguably much of the research that could/would use human stem cells could use those of chimpanzees, as they are so genetically similar to us. Personally I think anything that would be thrown out otherwise (medical waste, cord blood, unused IVF embryos) should be used to establish more stem cell lines, as cracking the stem cell differentiation puzzle will hopefully solve more lives than it could ever harm. AWHall 16:09, 20 May 2008 (EDT)

Embryonic-No, Stem Cells-Yes

A a religious person, I oppose abortion and the murder of unborn babies. However, there is no doubt that stem cells are very important. This article here lists many successful uses of non-embryonic stem-cells. These are from bone marrow or embilical chords after birth. They kill no one and work as effectiveley as embryonic stem cells.

The article: [1]

A basic issue of Conservation

Embryonic stem cells become medical waste though any number of procedures (abortion, miscarriage, fertility clinic discards, death during gestation, etc.) Therefore, to discard them is quite simply wasteful with a material that has great potential for no good reason. If I might bend this a bit further right, one could easily make the argument that many of these fetuses and blastocysts become medical waste through circumstance that your Christian god has allowed, or even directed, to occur. Might it be possible that he/she/it intends their use for medical research?

From the medical side of things, the potential of embryonic stem cells has yet to be realized (with all deference with hose who decry it) because only since the Obama administration's reversal of the ban has Federal funding been available for their use in research. What is acknowledged by the NIH is that embryonic stem cells have potentials that adult stem cells cannot possible have and to fail to explore these potentials is, quite simply, choosing ignorance for no good reason.

[2] NIH's Stem Cell Basics page

by leftofcenter

Embryonic stem cells are politically motivated and thus, not surprisingly, have caused more harm than good. One victim was a boy in Israel who, after receiving an embryonic stem cell implant, suffered from a harmful tumor that grew from it.
Use of adult stem cells has been impeded by the government more than use of embryonic stem cells. Liberals and pro-abortion types run the government, so the excuses for lack of benefit by the pro-abortion types don't hold water.--Andy Schlafly 09:16, 24 October 2009 (EDT)


What if I told you that researchers could cure diseases such as Parkinson's disease and multiple sclerosis? Odds are, you would be in favor of ending the suffering of the thousands of people who currently battle such diseases. These cures and many more are the potential results of embryonic stem cell research. Embryonic stem cells are stem cells isolated from embryos during a specific stage of development known as the blastocyst stage. These stem cells can renew themselves and reproduce to form all cell types of the body. Research utilizing these stem cells requires the destruction of an embryo, making the practice a point of moral, scientific, religious, and political controversy. Many argue that the destruction of embryos for research purposes is unethical based on the belief that embryos qualify as forms of life that deserve respect. Those in favor of embryonic stem cell research deem such a loss acceptable for the future benefits that this research could have on thousands of lives. While various arguments surround this debate, the main point of controversy is the source of stem cells used and the method with which they are obtained. In this paper, I will establish what stem cells are and the difference between embryonic and adult stem cells; then I will evaluate the two main arguments in the embryonic stem cell research debate; and finally, I will analyze the ethics of these arguments to come to the conclusion that embryonic stem cell research is ethical under certain circumstances.

Overview of Stem Cell Research

As defined by "The Human Embryonic Stem Cell Debate: Science, Ethics, and Public Policy," human embryonic stem cells are "a self-renewing cell line that gives rise to all cells and tissues of the body" (Holland 3). Most stem cells are only able to differentiate into a single form of offspring cells, otherwise known as progeny cells. For example, hematopoietic stem cells are a type of stem cells that can only form blood cells and skin stem cells can similarly only produce skin cells. These types of stem cells are referred to as adult stem cells or somatic stem cells because they are gathered from patients after birth (Devolder 5). Meanwhile, embryonic stem cells are pluripotent, meaning they have the capacity to produce all cells and tissues of the body (Holland 5). Embryonic stem cells, however, only have this pluripotent potential for the particular five-to-seven-day stage of embryonic development known as the blastocyst stage, after which they can only reproduce a single cell type ("The Ethics of Embryonic Stem Cell Research" 123).

Stem cells, in general, hold great promise for the future of medicine. Thus far, stem cell-based therapies have been developed to treat illnesses that previously had no cure. One example is bone marrow transplantation to treat leukemia and other blood disorders. The hematopoietic stem cells in bone marrow are injected into a patient who has severely reduced blood cell levels and these stem cells generate new blood cells, restoring the patient's immune system (Devolder 5). Therapies such as this will continue to be discovered with the support of stem cell research.

In addition to the development of revolutionary therapies, stem cell research also provides valuable information about mechanisms regulating cell growth, migration, and differentiation. Scientists can learn about these processes by studying stem cells that have been stimulated to differentiate into different types of body cells. The discovery of new information about these concepts will allow scientists to better understand early human development and how tissues are maintained throughout life (8).

Embryonic stem cells are particularly valuable not only because of their pluripotent qualities, but also because of their ability to renew themselves. This is done by "divid[ing] asynchronously – at different times – into one differentiated daughter cell1 and one stem cell-like daughter cell." This unique self-renewing quality of embryonic stem cells allows them to continuously grow even in laboratory conditions. Other types of stem cells eventually lose the ability to divide, making them less valuable for research purposes. Embryonic stem cells' ability to be produced in large quantities allows researchers to make progress in regenerative medicine, using these cells to develop new functional cells, tissues, and organs. The healthy cells are implanted into the patient, serving as treatment to permanently repair failing organs (Holland 5). The otherwise lack of treatment for loss of organ function displays the valuable potential of embryonic stem cells.

The sources of embryonic stem cells are a main point of controversy in the debate regarding embryonic stem cell research. Some possible sources for these stem cells include embryos created via in vitro fertilization (for either research or reproduction); five-to-nine-week old embryos or fetuses obtained through elective abortion; and embryos created through cloning or what is known as somatic cell nuclear transfer (Liu 1). Somatic cell nuclear transfer is the laboratory creation of a viable embryo by implanting a donor nucleus from a body cell into an egg cell. The ethics of obtaining embryonic stem cells via these sources can be questionable and have led to disputes that I will later address.

Research utilizing human embryonic stem cell lines has focused on the potential to generate replacement tissues for malfunctioning cells or organs (Liu 1). A specific technique has been isolated to utilize stem cells in order to repair a damaged tissue or organ:

"If a damaged tissue or organ cannot repair itself, stem cells could be obtained from these different stem cell sources [organs and tissues from individuals after birth; gametes, tissues, and organs from aborted fetuses; inner cell mass of early embryos]. Scientists could then culture these stem cells by creating conditions that enable them to replicate many times in a petri dish without differentiating. Such a population of proliferating stem cells originating from a single parent group of stem cells is a stem cell line. Stem cells from this stem cell line could then be coaxed to differentiate in to the desired cell type, and be transferred into the patient so that they can repair the damaged tissue or organ" (Devolder 6).

Other examples of research efforts include treatment of spinal cord injury, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease, and diabetes. Researchers also hope to use specialized cells to replace dysfunctional cells in the brain, spinal cord, pancreas, and other organs (2).

Federal funding of embryonic research has been strictly regulated since 1994 when President Clinton declared such research would not be funded by the government. Following this executive order, Congress passed the Dickey Amendment in 1996, prohibiting "federally appropriated funds from being used for either the creation of human embryos for research purposes or for research in which a human embryo or embryos are destroyed, discarded, or knowingly subjected to risk of injury or death" (Liu 2). Embryonic research has continued nonetheless by means of alternative funding. In 2001, President Bush declared that federal funding would be granted to human embryonic research on a restricted basis. However, these funds were only to be awarded for research on already existing stem cell lines. No funding was to be granted for "the use of stem cell lines derived from newly destroyed embryos, the creation of any human embryos for research purposes, or cloning of human embryos for any purposes" (3-4).

The debate over funding for embryonic stem cell research depends heavily on the ethical status of the research. There are two main arguments surrounding the ethics of embryonic stem cell research: the research is ethical because of the unique potential that embryonic stem cells have to cure currently untreatable diseases; and the research is unethical because it requires the destruction of life in the form of an embryo or fetus. Ultimately, the possible benefits and controversial status of life that an embryo embodies qualify embryonic stem cell research as ethical, as long as the stem cells are obtained in an ethical manner.

Arguments for Embryonic Stem Cell Research

In the realm of stem cell research, embryonic and adult stem cells are often compared. The controversial use of embryonic stem cells is supported on the basis of the many advantages that they have over adult stem cells. Embryonic stem cells are easier to obtain; they have a greater cell growth, otherwise known as proliferation, capacity; and they are more versatile. Embryonic stem cells are isolated from embryos in the blastocyst stage and the process damages the structure of the embryo to a point from which the embryo can no longer develop. Because these stem cells are obtained at a point when the inner cell mass is concentrated in the embryo, they are more easily obtained than adult stem cells, which are limited in quantity. Another valuable benefit of embryonic stem cells is their ability to multiply readily and proliferate indefinitely when cultured in the proper conditions (Devolder 9). Lastly, embryonic stem cells' pluripotent quality is the main factor that distinguishes them from adult stem cells (10). The ability to differentiate into any cell type creates greater possibilities for the application of embryonic stem cells.

Supporters of embryonic stem cell research argue that the research is justified, though it requires the destruction of an embryo, because of the potential for developing cures and preventing unavoidable suffering. These backers often disagree with the belief that "a blastocyst – even one that is not implanted in a woman's uterus – has the same ethical status as a further-developed human" (Clemmitt 702). Arthur Caplan, professor of medical ethics at the University of Pennsylvania, asserts that "an embryo in a dish is more like a set of instructions or blueprint for a house. It can't build the house. For the cells to develop into a human being requires an interactive process in the uterus between the embryo and the mother" (Clemmitt 702).

Others in favor of the research, such as Heron, a biotechnology company, claim that "not to develop the technology would do great harm to over 100 million patients in the United States alone who are affected by diseases potentially treatable by the many medical applications of hES [human Embryonic Stem] cells" (Holland 11-12). One example is the previously stated method of using embryonic stem cells to repair damaged tissue or organs. The only way to restore cellular function in an organ is to literally replace the lost cells and embryonic stem cells provide the best option for producing these cells (3).

Embryonic stem cells do also have some disadvantages that should be considered when making the argument for further support of embryonic stem cell research. Unlike adult stem cells, embryonic stem cells have a higher risk of causing tumor formation in the patient's body after the stem cells are implanted. This is due to their higher capacities for proliferation and differentiation (Devolder 11). Embryonic stem cell-based therapies also possess the risk of immunorejection – rejection of the stem cells by the patient's immune system. Because embryonic stem cells are derived from embryos donated for research after in vitro fertilization treatment, the marker molecules on the surfaces of the cells may not be recognized by the patient's body, and therefore may be destroyed as the result of a defense mechanism by the body (Holland 11). This is a problem that will require a solution if embryonic stem cell research is to be the basis for future therapeutic medicine.

Arguments against Embryonic Stem Cell Research

Currently, the isolation of embryonic stem cells requires the destruction of an early embryo. Many people hold the belief that a human embryo has significant moral status, and therefore should not be used merely as a means for research. One position that opponents of embryonic stem cell research assert is what "The Ethics of Embryonic Stem Cell Research" calls the full moral status view (14). This view holds that "the early embryo has the same moral status, that is, the same basic moral rights, claims, or interests as an ordinary adult human being." This moral status is believed to be acquired at the point of fertilization or an equivalent event such as the completion of somatic cell nuclear transfer. Therefore, with full moral status as a human being, an embryo should not be deliberately destroyed for research purposes simply because it is human (Devolder 15). The Roman Catholic Church is a strong supporter of this view, opposing stem cell research on the grounds that it is a form of abortion. Several other groups, including American evangelicals and Orthodox ethicists, consider "blastocysts to have the same status as fully developed human beings" and therefore oppose embryonic stem cell research for this reason. Beliefs regarding the moral status of an embryo are subjective, and also their own controversial issue, which complicates the task of creating a universal law for the use of embryonic stem cells for research.

Others in opposition, such as Kevin T. Fitzgerald, a Jesuit priest who is a bioethicist and professor of oncology at Georgetown University Medical School, do not consider the moral status of an embryo, but rather assert that Embryos should be protected because they are "that which we all once were" (Clemmitt 701). This view is very similar to moral philosopher and professor of philosophy as the University of California at Irvine Philip Nickel's "Loss of Future Life Problem" in regards to embryonic stem cell research. The Loss of Future Life Problem holds that it is unethical to take the lives of future humans by destroying embryos for research (Tobis 64). This stance stresses the potential of those future lives that will never have the chance to reach fulfillment if destroyed for research. In a retroactive sense, this can cause us to question "what if the embryo that developed into Albert Einstein was destroyed for embryonic stem cell research?" It is impossible for one to know the value that is lost in each embryo taken for research purposes, if that embryo is created with the plan of developing into an adult human being.

The response to this problem is that the particular blastocysts that are harvested for embryonic stem cell research are taken from (1) embryos that are frozen during in vitro fertilization procedures and never implanted, (2) donated egg cells, and (3) embryos created specifically for the purpose of generating new stem cell lines. In each of these cases, the embryo at hand does not have a future life in plan and therefore, nothing is lost by using such embryonic stem cells for research. For embryos created via in vitro fertilization, the researchers using the embryos are not making a decision that results in the loss of a future life. The future life of said embryo is lost when the decision is made to not implant it. Therefore, the Loss of Future Life Problem is not a valid objection to research using embryonic stem cells from frozen IVF embryos that are never implanted. Donated egg cells can be fertilized in a lab or through somatic cell nuclear transfer, a process described earlier in this paper. Embryos created specifically for the purpose of contributing to stem cell research have no actual future life to be lost from the moment of conception. In both of these cases, the intent of fertilization is not to create a future adult human being, and so the Loss of Future Life Problem does not apply to these sources of embryonic stem cells.

"In terms of the Loss of Future Life Problem, the key question is again whether the embryo is being deprived of future life, and again the answer depends on whether the embryo is removed from a woman's reproductive system, in which case it is likely that it is being deprived of future life that it would otherwise go on to have. If fertilization takes place outside a woman's body, by contrast, then the embryo is not already on its way toward a future life, so destroying it does not deprive it of that particular future" (Tobis 66-67).

Conclusion

As shown by the various arguments in this essay, the debate over embryonic stem cell research is a multifaceted scientific, moral, ethical, and political issue. Embryonic stem cells, with their pluripotent potential and self-renewing quality, hold great value for scientific researchers in search of cures for untreatable diseases, progress in regenerative medicine, or a better understanding of early human development. However, the ethical question still arises, "do the ends justify the means?"

Varying views regarding the ethical status of an embryo answer this question in different ways, though it is commonly accepted that if the means of obtaining the embryonic stem cells are ethical, then the resulting research of those stem cells is also ethical. For example, if a donated egg is fertilized in a lab with the intention of being used for future research purposes, the resulting research is therefore morally justified.

This is not to be said that the life of an early-stage embryo is to be taken lightly. More so that our moral perception of these embryos is different than that of a later-stage fetus, an infant, or an adult human being. Phillip Nickel asserts this subconscious difference, claiming that,

"while it's well known that many embryos are shed naturally, in very early abortions and miscarriages, no one makes an effort to save or grieve for them, as frequently happens with later-stage fetuses. This shows that people do view embryos as somewhat different from people, even though they may not realize it" (Clemmitt 702).

Thus, the moral distinction between a blastocyst and a developed fetus weakens the moral arguments in opposition to embryonic stem cell research. After all, if this research can reduce suffering for thousands of people, are we not morally obligated to pursue it?

Scientists in support of embryonic stem cell research are currently restricted by the limited amounts of federal funding and embryonic stem cell lines available for research. Many argue that these restrictions are preventing further scientific development and weakening the United States' position as a leading nation in biomedical research. Some scientists worry that if strict regulations of stem cell research continue, private companies may bypass the standards put in place by the National Institute of Health and conduct unregulated research (Clemmitt 700). If the United States wishes to remain a premiere country in biomedical research and maintain order and control of embryonic research being performed, action must be taken to address this issue.

Overall, though the destruction of a life is typically held to be unethical, the moral status of an embryo in the blastocyst stage is unclear and therefore cannot be equated to the moral status of an adult human being. Also, ethical sources of embryonic stem cells exist that do not take the life of future beings (i.e. unwanted frozen embryos produced via in vitro fertilization, donated egg cells fertilized in a laboratory). For these reasons, in combination with the possibility of reducing suffering for future beings, embryonic stem cell research is ethical under certain circumstances. As long as the stem cells are isolated in a manner that does not harm an embryo with the plan of developing into an adult human, the subsequent research is ethically justified. With this in mind, embryonic stem cell research should receive greater government funding so that continued progress can be made.

1 In cell division, a parent cell divides into two or more daughter cells.

Belin Mirabile

Belin Mirabile was born and raised in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania, a suburb of Philadelphia. She is currently majoring in Mechanical Engineering at Notre Dame with a minor in Catholic Social Tradition. When tasked with the assignment of writing a rhetorical essay that evaluates a point of ethical controversy, Belin wanted to choose a topic that relates to her interest in Bioengineering. Embryonic stem cell research stood out as a current issue that would be interesting to evaluate in the form of a researched essay. After her four years at Notre Dame, Belin plans to pursue a career related to Bioengineering that contributes in some fashion to the betterment of human health. Belin would like to thank her Writing and Rhetoric professor, John Duffy, for transforming her opinion of writing and giving her every tool to be a successful writer.

Works Cited

Clemmitt, Marcia. "Stem Cell Research." CQ Researcher 1 Sept. 2006: 697-720. Web. 25 Nov. 2015.

Devolder, Katrien. The Ethics of Embryonic Stem Cell Research. First ed. 2015. Issues in Biomedical Ethics. Print.

Holland, Suzanne, Lebacqz, Karen, and Zoloth, Laurie. The Human Embryonic Stem Cell Debate: Science, Ethics, and Public Policy. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT, 2001. Basic Bioethics. Web. 17 Nov. 2015.

Liu, Edward Chan-Young. Background and Legal Issues Related to Human Embryonic Stem Cell Research. American Law Division, 2008. Print.

"The Ethics of Embryonic Stem Cell Research." Embryo Politics. Ithaca; London: Cornell UP, 2011. 120. Print.

Tobis, Jerome S., Ronald Baker Miller, and Kristen R. Monroe. Fundamentals Of The Stem Cell Debate : The Scientific, Religious, Ethical, And Political Issues. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2008. eBook Collection (EBSCOhost). Web. 17 Nov. 2015.

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