Stem cell research is a relatively new science that is the source of much medical promise yet much controversy as well. The type of stem cells required, embryonic stem cells, are only obtainable one way: through the destruction of human embryos. In 1996, the Dickey-Wicker Amendment was passed, making the government unable to fund any research where human embryos are created or destroyed. At first the amendment was a minor obstacle the government had to work around to still get the stem cell scientists the money they needed.
It wasn’t until August 23, 2010 that Judge Lamberth’s ruling halted all government funding for stem cell research. Today, stem cell research does not receive government funds as the research, though potentially life-saving, crosses moral and religious barriers that inhibit its growth as a science and as a gateway towards future medical breakthroughs. With the opposing arguments in mind, I feel the government should fund stem cell research as doing so will help speed up the research process and get us closer to saving lives and ending human suffering.
There are two types of stem cells, adult stem cells (found in adults) and embryonic stem cells (found in embryos). Although both possess at least some ability to replicate and develop into mature specialized cells, such as skin cells, heart cells, or nerve cells, the adult stem cells are much less numerous than embryonic and generally much more limited in the types of cells they can form. Embryonic stem cells are pluripotent, meaning that they can form any kind of tissue and any type of cell.
Embryonic stem cells are currently not used for medical treatments yet are the source of much medical promise in the near future. Obtainable only through the destruction of human embryos, embryonic stem cells can be viewed as life savers or the products of life destruction. A type of adult stem cell, the hematopoietic stem cell, is already widely used to treat leukemia; in fact, they are the only kind of stem cells currently used to treat diseases.
Though past and current applications of stem cell therapy with humans may seem a bit underwhelming, scientists around the globe agree that stem cell research is worth the attention and will bring much relief to victims of many diseases. The main reason for government not to fund stem cell research is that it funds or at least encourages the destruction of human embryos. Judge Lamberth severed the government’s loophole used to fund stem cell research, appealing to the numerous United States citizens who do not want their tax dollars going towards the destruction of human embryos.
Judge Lamberth concludes that “the fact that embryonic-stem-cell research ‘involves multiple steps does not mean that each step is a separate ‘piece of research’ that may be federally funded, provided the step does not result in the destruction of an embryo’” (Keiper). The issue here arises from the belief that human embryos are potential humans, and therefore, the destruction of human embryos should be considered the destruction of human life.
Adam Keiper, the editor of the New Atlantis, states that “presuming the incalculable moral significance of human life, was certainly the intent of the Dickey-Wicker Amendment, and should be the aim of any decent society” (Keiper). He believes that the government should not fund stem cell research regardless of which part of the research it is funding; such funding of any research that involves the process of the destruction of human embryos, or potential human beings (as some may see them), incentivizes just that.
With that in mind, one’s position on the stem cell research may be decided on simply weighing the potential lives saved by conducting the research with the potential lives saved by not conducting the research. That decision relies heavily on one’s morals, religious beliefs, and whether or not human embryos should be considered potential humans beings. Many embryos created through in-virto fertilization (IVF), a process that replicates conception, are never used by the patients of the IVF banks; they are spares and would never become humans without the consent of the parents of the embryo, or embryos.
To answer the question of “whether or not human embryos should be considered potential human beings”, one must first answer the question: What makes a human? A simple answer to the question would be “anything that, under the right conditions, could become a human. ” However, the crucial step in the development of a human is the decision of the parent; without parental consent, those spare embryos will never become humans. Thus, the embryos have no future as a person and should not be seen as potential life.
The parents of the unneeded embryos have the option to donate the spare embryos to stem cell research or have them discarded. Laura Bothwell is a doctoral candidate in the history and ethics of public health and medicine in the Department of Sociomedical Sciences at Columbia University. She believes that “it is a great gift to humanity that the embryos left over from the assisted reproduction cycles can be used for research that has the potential to alleviate human suffering” (Bothwell).
Hundreds of thousands of spare embryos in IVF banks have no future as humans, making it unwise to not use them for stem cell research. In which case, the argument that the government is funding the destruction of potential human life is fundamentally flawed. We need to stop worrying about the lives of those who will never live and begin focusing on the lives of those already living. In the novel “Brave New World” by Aldous Huxley, the world has been transformed from what it is today. Humans are grown in factories with specific traits to fill specific roles in the society.
Obviously, this is not the case today, and most would agree that is a good thing. However, we are slowly beginning to see that it may be possible. The possibility of growing our own human beings is scary to think of. Looming deep in the minds of stem cell researchers and scientists and anyone educated about the science is the fear of what it may lead to. Could it lead us to becoming human engineers? Could it lead to our humanity slip away as we wander into a life where no one is special, where not God but we are the creators of human beings?
It may not be a commonly heard question as most would label it farfetched. Therefore, as I support the government funding stem cell research, I also understand the need for it to be monitored. Going into the science of stem cells and still today we do not completely know what will become of it in the distant future. “President [Bush] declared his intention to name a President’s Council to monitor stem cell research, to recommend appropriate guidelines and regulations, and to consider medical and ethical ramifications of biomedical innovation” (President’s Council on Bioethics).
Another reason for the government to not fund stem cell research is that doing so would speed up the research while many, including those of the President’s Council on Bioethics, think it should be monitored and restricted as to prevent it from getting out of hand. Stem cell research is like a fire, some people want to see it grow and prove itself a source of warmth, some people want to see it diminish until there is nothing left; most want to keep it under control and prevent it from becoming a raging inferno.
Moral dilemmas and deep inner-looming fears aside, stem cell research has a promising potential that cannot be ignored. Researchers believe that stem cells can be used to treat a large variety of diseases and organ failure. They could be used to create organ transplants that will not be rejected by the patient. Stem cells have the ability to save countless lives across the world. They may be used in the treatment of neurological diseases, such as Parkinson’s disease or Alzheimer’s disease. They may be important for delivering targeted gene therapy.
They have the ability to treat liver diseases and metabolic disorders such as Gaucher’s disease. Hematopoietic stem cells are currently used in treating leukemia, a reasonable and well established and accepted method of treatment. Ruth Kirchstein, a former acting director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), notes that “the ability to use stem cells in disease treatments by simple transplantation makes them a feasible therapeutic approach”, and “with limited supply of organs for transplants, stem cells are increasingly viewed as an attractive alternative for treating failing organs” (Kirchstein).
If the only cost of funding stem cell research were the loss of embryos that had no future human life possibility than the numerous possible benefits of the research should render the cost insignificant. Stem cell research holds much promise yet is deprived of the funding necessary to fulfill this promise. If funded, within years we could be making medical breakthroughs and saving more lives than ever before. Luckily, modern science has unlocked a new possibility, one that could put an end to moral and ethical disputes and put an end to much human suffering.
In recent years scientists have made a new discovery, a new way to research stem cells, a way to reprogram skins cells to behave just as embryonic stem cells; they are called induced pluripotent stem cells. This new method of acquiring stem cells breaks no ethical barriers while still giving us access to the life-saving potential of stem cells. In November 2007 a research group in Japan and another in Wisconsin successfully created the induced luripotent stem cells. Initially, the induced pluripotent stem cells had a cancerous tendency that killed some of the mice in the first testing process. However, on November 30, 2007 Shinya Yamanaka of Kyoto University, the leader of the Japanese research groups, eliminated the cancerous tendency. “In the first process, six of the thirty-six mice injected with the cells died of tumors within 100 days, but in the second process, no mice died” (Lewis).
Not long after that accomplishment, scientists at Harvard Medical School and Children’s Hospital in Boston created the induced pluripotent stem cells from a human volunteer, adding to the evidence that supports skin cell reprogramming as a promising means of acquiring the valuable stem cells. Andy Lewis, a research editor for the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, declares that “The breakthrough of inducing skin cells into pluripotent stem cells is an answer to prayer of pro-life advocates, who have long desired an ethical medical solution to combat debilitating diseases and illnesses in society” (Lewis).
Induced pluripotent stem cells, being classified as stem cell research, should by all means be funded by the government as it poses no ethical issues and possesses the same potential as human embryonic stem cells do. It is a solution that makes everyone happy. The government should fund stem cell research. Spare embryos with no future as humans should be utilized to improve the lives of those already living. If anything, the government should fund and encourage the creation of induced pluripotent stem cells.
Stem cell research has too much potential to not fund, even with taking ethical and moral barriers into consideration. However, we must prevent ourselves from getting carried away; we must monitor the research’s growth, keep it controlled, and, most importantly, maintain our humanity. We can tend to the fire, let it glow brighter than ever, let it provide warmth and comfort for society, but if we let our guard down, if we allow the fire to become bigger than us, a raging, untamable inferno, we may never be able to stomp it out. ?