The Controversy Over Stem Cell Research
What's All the Fuss?
The scientific community has a language all their own and average Americans don’t fully understand what all the hub-bub concerning embryonic stem cells is about. So, let’s get clear on what stem cells are.
Stem cells are a form of human life. They are alive, contain human DNA and have one special characteristic. They can be manipulated to develop into different cell types present in the human body. At this stage they can divide indefinitely and maintain their identity. They are called stem cells because they are the source of every kind of human tissue.
Embryonic stem cells have the ability to develop into any of the different 220 cell types in a human body.The other side of the argument concerns adult stem cells. They are not as useful because they have already begun specializing and can only develop into one of a few cell types. In lay terms a stem cell is simply one having the potential to regenerate tissue over a lifetime.
So what’s the controversy all about? It boils down to religious, moral values versus medical advocates and the scientific community. The medical and scientific camps, despite their denials, may also have profit motives in the form of government subsidizing.
Addressing moral issues in 2001, President Bush limited federal funding of research using human embryonic stem cells. President Obama later reversed that policy.President Bush additionally said, “I also believe human life is a sacred gift from our Creator. I worry about a culture that devalues life, and believe as your President I have an important obligation to foster and encourage respect for life in America and throughout the world.”
Opposition to stem cell research is mostly from religious, social conservatives and pro-life advocates. These groups believe harvested embryonic stem cells are a human person, and extracting these cells constitutes murder. Pro lifer’s, doctors, and Christians make the case that destroying a human embryo is committing murder. They hold any good coming from such research is negated because a human being was destroyed in the process.
Therefore, questions concerning embryonic stem cell research are not its legality or cost effectiveness, but rather is it morally right?
Embryonic and adult stem cells both have advantages and disadvantages. Each differs in the number and type of cells they can become. Embryonic stem cells can become any cell type. Adult stem cells, at present, are believed to be limited to cell types from which they came.
Embryonic stem cells can be grown relatively easily in culture while Adult stem cells are relatively rare, so isolating adult tissue is challenging. So far, attempts to increase their numbers, hasn’t been very successful. This fact is important because a large number of cells are needed in stem cell replacement therapies. Studies of adult stem cells has been ongoing for decades and resulted in successful treatments for cancer, autoimmune disorders, leukemia, and heart disease. Adult stem cells are obtained from living bone marrow, blood, brain tissue, skin, and body fat. Other sources rich in adult stem cells are umbilical-cord blood and the placenta.
However, use of adult stem cells isn’t as controversial as using embryonic cells, asproduction of adult stem cells does not destroy an embryo. And in some cases adult stem cells can be obtained from the intended recipient. This means tissue rejection is essentially non-existent in these situations.
While much of society remains unaware of more complicated issues relating to this research, the pro lifer’s have consistently kept the controversy in front of the public. Despite small numbers and limited resources, they have made the public deal with the ethical ramifications.