The topic of a human embryonic stem cell research (HESCR) has been a controversial issue since late 1990s. Opponents of HESCR have been arguing that it is not only a waste of federal funding, it is also against a moral code. Former President George W. Bush, a republican, placed a ban in HESCR due to its ethical nature as well as inhibiting the use of federal funding. However, his successor, President Barack Obama, a democrat, lifted the ban allowing federal funding to be used for the purposes of HESCR. That has sparked a great publicized dispute and divided the public over the ethical issues (CNN News)
For the purpose of this paper, one must examine what HESCR entails assessing key factors such as what embryos represent, how and where embryos are acquired, as well as determine how vital it is for the scientists to pursue HESCR. Lastly, it will be discussed whether the concerns over ethics and religious beliefs are justified considering how many lives can potentially be saved otherwise discarded and rejected embryos.
Human embryonic stem cell research is a remarkable scientific advancement, and to restrict its potential from being researched and supported, simply for ethical and religious reasons, is reprehensible and ignorant. Perhaps, the reason for the misconception of HESC research is the lack of knowledge including statistics, data and crucial facts. If so, the opponents of HESC research would benefit from gaining an understanding of what an embryo is and what stem cell research represents. The very definition of an embryo is an unborn or unhatched offspring, especially of a mammal, in the early stages of development within the womb, in humans up to the eighth week, after which it is termed fetus (Dictionary.com).
Because an embryo has yet to become a fetus and form organs, it is considered a tissue comprising of cells which have not yet been formed. However, why are embryonic stem cells used instead of adult stem cells? Since the embryo is in such a rudimentary and basic phase, and its cells are still unspecialized unlike a skin cell, hair cell or blood cell, scientists are able to to specialize those cells by creating specialized cells for helping cure many life threatening diseases. By producing these specialized stem cells, the scientists and researchers would also be able to determine why certain human organs do not function properly, understand the cause of genetic and non-genetics diseases, discover the root of cancer cells, be able to grow and replace certain human organs, and experiment and examine how embryonic stem cells would respond to certain drugs (Healthline of Stem-Cell Research).
Moreover, embryonic stem cells have other vital properties besides being able to receive developmental signals to differentiate into brain cells, bone marrow or heart cells, and also have the ability to divide and renew themselves for longer periods than differentiated cells(Stem Cell Basics I). According to National Institute of Health, stem cells represent the bodys natural repair and maintenance systems. Regenerative medicine harnesses the unique qualities of stem cells to treat disease, trauma and injury(National Institute on Drug Abuse)). Thus, by maneuvering and specializing those stem cells in an embryo, the scientists undoubtedly, are on the path to discovering the secret to many diseases such as cancer which is one of the most leading causes of deaths in the world (American Cancer Association).
To the opponents of HESC research, using a human embryo for a research is a monstrous thing to do, especially, when most of them are unaware of how the embryos are acquired. Needless to say that many think that scientists and researchers would try to persuade mothers-to-be to hand over their embryos or take advantage of the mothers financial situation to encourage her to give up her embryo. However, for the sole purpose of the research, human embryos are acquired from vitro fertilization and abortion clinics, given by the mother or couple (with signed consent). Those embryos that would be used in the research were otherwise discarded or rejected embryos. Also, the embryos that were going to stay frozen and one day, possibly, be abandoned or dispensed of, are also given chance to improve or save a human life.
The HESC research is taking slow and gradual steps in presenting itself as possibly the ultimate treatment for certain diseases. Scientists have discovered and accomplished vital methods in preventing, treating and, possibly, even curing certain diseases. Dr. Dan Kaufman at the University of Minnesota attested that the researchers have found natural killers which are derived from human embryos to alsotreat and fight cancer especially leukemias and lymphomas” (Stem Cell Institute and Department of Medicine at the University of Minnesota). According to American Cancer Society and the National Cancer Institute, lung cancer alone has about 1,800,000 cancer cases in the world. AMCS stated that in 2018, there will be an estimated 1,735,350 new cancer cases diagnosed and 609,640 cancer deaths in the United States (AMCS). There are more than a hundred types of cancers and most of them are caused by genetic mutations which with embryonic stem cell research, scientists would be able to get closer in discovering the cause, the treatment and the cure of those cancerous cells.
Besides cancerous diseases, there are also diseases caused by gene mutations including Down Syndrome and Cystic Fibrosis. With the help of HESC research, the scientists would be able to determine and find the mutation causing gene and if need be, they can inject embryonic stem cells to replace the mutated ones. According to The New England Medical Journal, HESC research would allow the many scientists and geneticists to find the treatment if not the cure. (Soundhaus 1). In New Scientist, a clinic in India used the HESCs to treat up to 14 people with Down Syndrome. Jyoti Titus, manager at Nutech Mediworld Clinic in India says, As far as we know, its the first time that stem cells have been used to treat Downs syndrome(New Scientist). The outcome of this extraordinary treatment will be published as soon as the treatments are over. Nevertheless, to implement such treatment, especially in developing countries, speaks volume about the current medicine, and how far science has come.
Alzheimers is another disease that affects large number of people in the world. Around three million cases have been reported, and that number increases every year. In the brains of people diagnosed with Alzheimers, the brain cells themselves degenerate because of a protein called beta-amyloid 42, leading to memory loss or debilitating other functions such as thinking, remembering, and reasoning. Researchers of EuroStemCell are currently experimenting to help produce more neurotrophins because in patients with AD (Alzheimer’s Disease), the brain produces little to no neurotrophins and that leads neurons to die. Researchers found positive results when neural stem cells derived from embryos, were tested on mice with a similar disease as AD. The researchers are yet to test it on humans, and due to constant public condemnation of HESC research and limited federal fund, the scientists have their ?hands tied.
Another leading cause of death for many patients is Ischemic strokes. An Ischemic stroke is the most common type of stroke that occurs when a blood clot blocks blood vessels from reaching the brain. National Center of Biotechnology which explains that the regenerative capacity of HESC in stroke is related to their ability to give rise to different neuronal and glial elements forming the brain tissues (NCB). However, with the help of HESC research, Ischemic strokes can not only be prevented, it can also restore histological and behavioral deficits, and repaired damaged synaptic connections associated with stroke lesions per experiments done on mice in the lab (Current Neurology and Neuroscience Reports). The scientists are certain that the same process would be as effective on humans as was done on the mice during lab experimentation.
To further validate the effectiveness of HESC research, patients with vision problems were treated with HESC. Isabella Beukes from Santa Rosa, California, had been blind for most of her adult life about 40 years, and with the embryonic stem cell treatment, it is gradually improving her vision, she is beginning to see some colors and some shapes. These are Isabellas words herself; “the improvement, I mean, from where I was coming is just, it’s very, very significant for me. I think it’s fantastic, I just think to be part of groundbreaking research work is amazing” (ESC Helps Restore Preliminary Vision). Another success story is that of Laura Dominguez, who has been paralyzed waist down due to car accident, which resulted in a spinal cord injury. She started her HESC treatment and gradually, she is seeing and experiencing the spinal cord healing. Now she is able to walk with little support of braces.Laura says, before the stem cell procedure, I wasn’t able to move very much. And then after the procedure I’m able to get up. I’m able to stand and walk around a little bit with help. The stem cell procedure made my upper body a lot stronger. I can feel my entire body now(Charlotte Lozier Institute Success story).
Furthermore, Asterias Biotherapeutics, a research company, approved by Food and Drug Administration (FDA), conducted a clinical trial using embryonic stem cells to treat people with spinal cord injuries. Six patients and two years later, they discovered that by transplanting millions of cells into the spine, those cells actually had engrafted at the injury site resulting to recovering at least one motor level(The Stem Cellar).This astonishing discovery can make a difference between needing full time care, and leading an independent life.More and more patients have come forward with their success stories and how embryonic stem cell research has improved their lives.
Darlene Cain, who is chair of the American Diabetes Association, urged the U.S. House of Representatives to pass the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act. Many disapproved due to the fact that her actions were considered not ethical. However, she said for the nearly 21 million children and adults with diabetes in the United States who are waiting for a cure, this is unacceptable and we support the exploration of every ethical avenue of research that will help us achieve that goal( Embryonic Stem Cell Research Offers Great Promise for Americans with Diabetes).
In MIT Technology Review, an article was recently published Will Embryonic Stem Cells Ever Cure Anything? It stated that human ESC research by Selma Therapeutics is almost prepared to cure children with diabetes. Semma Therapeutics which is one of the most expensive research companies, hopes that the scientists soon would be able to specialize embryonic stem cells into sustainable tissue to be used by diabetics. Doug Melton who invested in Semma Therapeutics for his son and daughter who were both diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, affirms that it took him and his team 15 years to unveil each molecular step required to coax a stem cell into a pancreatic beta cell able to sense glucose and secrete insulin (Will Embryonic Stem Cells Ever Cure Anything?).
In addition to this progress, Melton also able to demonstrate how he could control glucose cells of mice for six months using only human beta cells which were derived from the embryos. Melton explains as to why HESC research is a great solution for many people who are diagnosed with diabetes because their life can be foreshortened by more than a decade. Melton also exclaimed You could almost say it is the natural solution.Its not the technological solution. Its not the Google solution. Its natures solution to the problem. Youre providing the cell which is missing (Will Embryonic Stem Cells Ever Cure Anything?).Many diabetics support this research, not because of the insulin injections but because of the expense. The global market for insulin is more than $30 billion dollars a year. Many people refused to use this treatment, however, because of the unethical process in which the embryos were obtained.
According to the recently published article titled Embryonic Stem Cells Tackle Major Killer Diseases, a 23 trials on 1255 people with heart disease found that there is some evidence that recipients of stem cell therapy are less likely to die or be readmitted to hospital a year or more after treatment than people who received standard treatment. Moreover, in France, where HESC research is widely popular, heart failure is claimed to be a ?thing of the past. Recently, in France, six people, who suffered from a heart failure undergone a patch surgery which involves immature heart cells placing to help regenerate heart muscle. Those people will be monitored closely for the success rate, however, the lab research conducted on monkeys showed that the patch could regenerate about 20% of lost muscle of the heart.
The human HESCR has helped not only the adult population, it has also brought a positive change on childrens health. The American Academy of Pediatrics fully support the ESC research and strongly believes that diseases such as hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy, bone marrow failure syndromes, leukemia, and congenital heart disease which currently are the main focus for children’s medicine, and it evolved and produced a cell-based therapies and drug screening. For example, through an ESC research the scientists were able to differentiate into type II alveolar lung cells responsible for pathogen invasion that helped scientists to understand and tackle the ?invading cells. Even though the human HESC research has been ongoing, the American Academy Pediatrics emphasizes the importance of continued funding as they are confident that the researchers would soon unearth the very treatment for pediatric lung disease, which continues to be the leading cause of death in infants. Furthermore, with the help of human ESC research, scientists are on the very path of discovering the treatments for insulin replacement for children with diabetes type 1, killing leukimia agents, protecting against metastasis (spreading of cancer), solid tumors, skin grafts, replacing chemotherapies. (American Academy of Pediatrics).
Regardless of aforementioned success stories, the opponents of the embryonic stem cell research including the Catholic Church are persuaded that HESC research is against everything that God has created. They believe that it is unethical to kill an embryo as embryos are human beings from its conception to its birth. (Status of Human Embryo). Catholics are against HESC because it is destruction of an embryo, hence anti-abortion.The US Conference of Catholic Bishops published a pamphlet against Embryonic stem cell research stating that no commitment to a hoped-for greater good can erase or diminish the wrong of directly taking innocent human lives here and now. In fact, policies undermining our respect for human life can only endanger the embryos vulnerable patients that stem cell research offers to help. The same ethic that justifies taking some lives to help the patient with Parkinsons or Alzheimers disease today can be used to sacrifice that very patient tomorrow, if his or her survival is viewed as disadvantaging other human beings considered more deserving or productive. The suffering of patients and families affected by devastating illness deserves our compassion and our committed response, but not at the cost of our respect for life itself (Hannasch 3). The author, Hannasch says that we cannot give up a life to save anothers life. However, this misconception of taking ready to become fetus embryos is a mere ignorance, and should be addressed and enlightened. Many people who use this argument as defense to the unethicality of HESC is mainly based on their beliefs. Beliefs are what people hold to be true because of the culture their own upbringings. Without that bias one cannot deny that an embryo is truly a group of primitive cells and that all the outcomes of HESC research are only used to help humanity.
Even though, the Catholic Church is uncompromising about the human HESC research, the American Baptist church states no strict policy against HESC research. The representative of the church, claims that it is the choice of a persons based on their relationship with God (Pew Research Center’s Religion & Public Life Project). That suggests that they are a neutral to the HESC research. In contrast, the Episcopal and United Methodist Church do support human HESC research for as long as it used solely discarded embryos from vitro fertilization clinics. The Presbyterian Church and in some branches of Judaic religion are similar in their support of human ESC research as long as it be used merely for medical purposes. Interesting enough, in the context of HESC research, Buddhism has two rules that somewhat contradict each other: Prajna – accumulate knowledge and end human suffering, therefore, it would mean that science is now able to end human suffering by curing diseases with the help of HESC research. The second rule is Ahimsa: not to harm or destroy others; and in the context of HESC research, its the opponents would argue that since an embryo is a being, hence should not be destroyed or harmed. Needless to mention again that the ?being (embryo) is discarded and/or rejected at some point during their development. It is believed that most opponents of the embryonic stem cell research are against HESC research due to their deeply embedded religious beliefs and superstition.
In conclusion, the presented clinical research, trials and findings have shown to be of great significance proving the necessity of the stem-cell research. Despite all the ?ungodly claims directed against the human embryonic stem cell research and its controversial nature, it is undeniably, a ?blessing for our scientific community. It is indeed, an advancement that brings about hope and trust in science. HESC research will help so many people diagnosed with strokes, diabetes, leukemia, HIV, and other deadly diseases. The pros and cons of Embryonic stem cell research, prove that pros outweigh the cons and for that same reason the logical approach would be to support the research.The cons include certain ethical codes which society itself has created them, and abides by those rules regardless of the outcome. Since when saving or improving a human life has become unethical?
Agreeably, society makes those rules to distinguish us from animals, certain moral codes have to be enforced by all means, however, at times hindering with science does not necessarily mean that breaking that moral or ethics code, instead, it means embracing the advancement of humanity and how far the science has come to trying to treat or even cure deadly diseases.
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