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Stem Cell Research: Friend or Foe?

Essay by   •  May 11, 2012  •  Research Paper  •  2,060 Words (9 Pages)  •  2,068 Views

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Stem Cell Research: Friend or Foe?

As college students, it is important that we know and care about the issues in stem cell research. Stem cell research is currently legal in most countries except the United States. Normally a leader in new frontiers is one of the last to explore this territory. As technology keeps advancing, stem cell research is slowly being pushed forward. Eventually, we are going to have to do something about it. Especially, if it keeps progressing, we as citizens will have to vote on whether is it beneficial or harmful. So, is stem cell research valuable to our society or not? As a Biomedical Engineering major I support research in this field but there is some opposition. Most people know at least one person with diabetes, Alzheimer's, or Parkinson's. Perhaps even you will face one of these illnesses at some point in your life. It is important to know about issues like stem cell research, which can help many people in our society.

Stem cell research is becoming an issue that is one of the most profound of our time. The issue of research involving stem cells derived from human embryos is increasingly becoming the subject of dinner table discussions across the nation. The issue is confronted every day in laboratories as scientists ponder the ethical consequences of their work. It is agonized over by parents and many couples as they try to have children, or save children already born. The issue is debated within the church, with people of different faiths, even many of the same faith coming to different conclusions. Many people are finding that the more they know about stem cell research, the less certain they are about the right ethical and moral conclusions.

What is stem cell research? It starts with an embryo. An embryo is created when a male sperm and a female egg are joined. A large number of embryos already exist outside the natural environment (Snow 24). They are the product of a process called in vitro fertilization, which helps many couples conceive children. When doctors match sperm and egg to create life outside the womb, they usually produce more embryos than are planted in the mother. Once a couple successfully has children, or if they are unsuccessful, the additional embryos remain frozen in laboratories. Some will not survive during long storage; others are destroyed (Snow 27). A number have been donated to science and used to create privately funded stem cell lines. A few have been implanted in an adoptive mother. They are eventually born, and today they are healthy children.

Based on preliminary work that has been privately funded, scientists believe further research using stem cells offers great promise that could help improve the lives of those who suffer from many terrible diseases -- from juvenile diabetes to Alzheimer's, from Parkinson's to spinal cord injuries. While scientists admit they are not yet certain, they believe stem cells derived from embryos have unique potential. Stem cells can also be derived from sources other than embryos -- from adult cells, from umbilical cords that are discarded after babies are born, and from human placenta. Many scientists feel that research on these types of stem cells is also promising. Many patients suffering from a range of diseases are already being helped with treatments developed from adult stem cells. However, most scientists believe that research on embryonic stem cells offers the most promise because these cells have the potential to develop in all of the tissues in the body.

"Alright!" you say, "Let's use these embryos to save some lives!" This may sound like a good idea, but research on embryonic stem cells raises profound ethical questions, because extracting the stem cell destroys the embryo, and by doing that, destroys its potential for life. Each of these embryos is unique, with the unique genetic potential of an individual human being. As President George Bush put it, the issue is centered around two fundamental questions: First, are these frozen embryos human life, and therefore, something precious to be protected? And second, if they're going to be destroyed anyway, shouldn't they be used for a greater good, for research that has the potential to save and improve other lives? (Bush)

Ask a handful of people these two questions and chances are you will get different answers from all of them. Is stem cell research ethical? To see what the true ethical issues are, you need to look at the approaches of these three groups: medical, social, and profit oriented. When talking about stem cell research, the first group you will most likely encounter is the medical group. The medical field right now is providing us with endless opportunities regarding improving health technology. With stem cell research providing a possible way for us to cure many fatal illnesses, medical proponents argue that stem cell research creates a promising pathway for the future of world health (Medicine 54). Stem cells have the ability to divide for an indefinite period in lab culture and can develop into most of the specialized cells and tissues of the body, such as muscle cells, nerve cells, liver cells, and blood cells. Stem cells stimulated to develop into specialized cells could be used to treat diseases such as Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, spinal cord injuries, stroke, burns, heart disease, and diabetes. Using stem cells could reduce the dependence on organ donation and transplantation.

Seeing such great benefits in stem cell research, people in the medical group argue that the research is necessary for the society's general health benefit. Michael J. Fox best summarizes this approach by saying "stem cell research offers the chance of a medical miracle" (O'Connor). Stem cell research could not only help people like Michael J. Fox, but also people like the old man down the street with Parkinson's, or the child with diabetes. There are three very passionate and well known people driving this side of the debate: Christopher Reeve, Mary Tyler Moore and Michael J. Fox who say stem cells could cure their diseases. Michael J. Fox has testified before Congress saying he believes this research could help cure a disease he has, Parkinson's. Mary Tyler Moore has gone before



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