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The Controversy Over Stem Cell Research

Updated on April 29, 2011

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.

The Controversy

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.

The Questions

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.

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    • conradofontanilla profile image

      conradofontanilla 

      6 years ago from Philippines

      The latest in stem cell is that embryonic stem cells are no longer necessary when growing a new earlobe, for example. Adult stem cells will do by means of a new technology. I have a Hub "Chelation and Stem Cell Therapies Completely Repair the Heart."

    • JY3502 profile imageAUTHOR

      John Young 

      7 years ago from Florence, South Carolina

      Thank you nicomp. I'm not deleting comments because of content, but because my page is not a discussion forum. Hubpages has a place for that. Comments are welcome but not an endless stream.

    • nicomp profile image

      nicomp really 

      7 years ago from Ohio, USA

      I'm done here because half my posts are deleted. Certainly that's the privelege of the editor and I respect that.

    • nicomp profile image

      nicomp really 

      7 years ago from Ohio, USA

      "But whose morals get to win? "

      That's a different issue. I am just making the point that morals are not the exclusive purview of religious people.

      "And I suppose I could be wrong, but I think it is mostly a religious opposition, since the issue seems to come down to whether or not the fertilized product has a soul as it certainly isn't viable at that point."

      I think you are wrong. For example, the law stipulates a greater penalty for killing a human than, say, a bat. This is not a issue of whether or not a human has a soul: the law is mum on that point.

    • TahoeDoc profile image

      TahoeDoc 

      7 years ago from Lake Tahoe, California

      But whose morals get to win? The ones who think the fertilized egg is a human being, or the ones who put more value on the already living, breathing, suffering child? No one needs me to 'allow' them to make whatever argument they want, but my point was that there is more than one way to look at the situation, even morally. Does that make sense?

      And I suppose I could be wrong, but I think it is mostly a religious opposition, since the issue seems to come down to whether or not the fertilized product has a soul as it certainly isn't viable at that point.

    • nicomp profile image

      nicomp really 

      7 years ago from Ohio, USA

      "...but the research has been set back many years by the religious opposition to such research.?"

      It's not religious opposition. It's moral opposition. Understanding that your so-called "ball of cells" is a human life is not the exclusive purview of religious people.

      Even the atheist used an appeal to morality in his argument. Please allow others the same courtesy.

    • TahoeDoc profile image

      TahoeDoc 

      7 years ago from Lake Tahoe, California

      And private research is working on 'work-arounds', but is it worth the lives already lost? Would you think so if it was your child?

      There are researchers developing methods of harvesting adult stem cells, cells from cord blood, and cells from embryos WITHOUT having to destroy the embryo, but the research has been set back many years by the religious opposition to such research.

    • TahoeDoc profile image

      TahoeDoc 

      7 years ago from Lake Tahoe, California

      Here's a moral dilemma to consider then. If all human life is sacred let's suppose the following.

      There is a 2 year old girl sitting on her mother's lap. She is vomiting from the chemo and wears a fleece hat to keep her bald head warm. She has pale skin and sunken eyes.

      If stem cell research had not been hindered and slowed by religion, perhaps a cure from stem-cells would be available.

      In a fertility clinic, there are blastocysts that are about to be thrown away. They were cultured and kept viable only in a lab and were never implanted into a human host (and never will be). They will never, under any circumstances develop into a viable human being. They were not allowed to be harvested for stem-cells because some people believe that that ball of cells is a life.

      How do you decide, morally, which "life" is more worth saving? Does the bible really ascribe more value to the ball of cells than the fully developed human?

    • nicomp profile image

      nicomp really 

      7 years ago from Ohio, USA

      "Seems it is stupid and immoral to ban their use when they could lead to elimination of a disease such as diabetes."

      @AKA Winston : an interesting argument from an atheist... an appeal to morality.

    • profile image

      AKA Winston 

      7 years ago

      The moral question is whether it is moral to prevent finding cures for illnesses that will kill millions in order to keep alive a stem cell that is about to be discarded, anyway.

      The human stem cells used in research come from in vitro fertilizations, and they are the unused cells that are due to be discarded. Seems it is stupid and immoral to ban their use when they could lead to elimination of a disease such as diabetes.

    • JY3502 profile imageAUTHOR

      John Young 

      7 years ago from Florence, South Carolina

      One would think so wouldn't they?

    • nicomp profile image

      nicomp really 

      7 years ago from Ohio, USA

      There's also ample hub-bub surrounding Bush's ban on federal funding for stem cell research. Too many poorly-informed folks thought he had banned the research entirely. All he did was remove federal funding from embryo stem cell research.

      Certainly, if embryo stem cells represent such a significant step forward, then the private sector should be willing and able to support the research, yes?

    • JY3502 profile imageAUTHOR

      John Young 

      8 years ago from Florence, South Carolina

      I'm simple minded, so it's easy for me.

    • Lucky Cats profile image

      Kathy 

      8 years ago from The beautiful Napa Valley, California

      This is wonderfully written and easy for the lay person to understand. Excellent research, information and the questions regarding moral issues are right on target. Personally, my "jury" is still out on this one but, this article certainly sheds light on a very controversial topic. Thank you much! JY!!

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