The employment of human embryonic stem cells is a significant breakthrough in the filed of biomedical research. The capability to isolate, culture, harvest and manipulate stem cells presents a huge potential to generate new cells that will technically replace non-functional or degenerate cells in a patient’s body. Such revolutionary technology may possibly serve as a new treatment method for incurable and debilitating diseases. Amidst the excitement within the scientific world for the promises stem cell research brings, there is a growing debate on the ethics that are associated with this novel technology.
The collection and manipulation of embryonic stem cells in the laboratory is dependent on the destruction of embryos. Such procurement of biological material therefore warrants the termination of an embryo which directly represents the very beginning of a human being (Robertson, 1999; Leies, 2005). Society has thus questioned whether the scientific world has ignored the absolute value of life in exchange for excellence in biomedical research. In a newspaper article from the Washington post entitled “Clash over stem cell research heats up,” Rick Weiss (2006) describes how stem cell research is perceived by two sides of the issue.
Both sides have aggressively used the media in helping them air out their concerns and excitement, respectively, over the use of embryonic stem cells. The newspaper article was written and published a few days before the Senate would meet to determine the fate of embryonic stem cell research in the United States. The stem cell research bill was initially reviewed in 2001 and indicated that research efforts on embryonic stem cells in the United States will not be funded due to ethical reasons.
This new bill will thus take control of the 2001 restriction and will therefore allow funding of research programs on embryonic stem cells that have been created as of August 2001. The bill aims to preserve and protect human embryos from their destruction, yet several scientific groups have claimed that this restriction has hampered their research efforts on regenerative medicine, and has also resulted in the lag of research output. More importantly, other countries that are not restricted from performing embryonic stem cell research have gained a 5-years’ worth of research advantage over the United States.
The controversy regarding the ethical issues of embryonic stem cell research impacts the entire human population. Each individual in the society has a susceptibility to contract a disease that might possibly need the use of stem cells that can replace defective ones in the body. We have heard of a number of public figures that have suffered from diseases that could have been resolved through the use of embryonic stem cells. The late former President Ronal Reagan suffered from Alzheimer’s disease and the late actor Christopher Reeve experienced spinal cord injury.
Both of these individuals are prime examples of people who could have benefited from the results of embryonic stem cell research. Stem cells may be cultured and manipulated to differentiate into specific types of cells such as astrocytes or brain cells for Alzheimer’s patients, and neural cells for patients with spinal cord injury (Snow, 2003). However, nothing has been done since 2001 because the federal government has put a hold on any research activities that involves stem cell manipulation and experimentation.
A solution to current debate on the ethical issues associated with embryonic stem cell research is the comprehensive explanation of the definition of embryonic stem cells. It is imperative that the non-scientific public understand the principles and techniques behind the generation of embryonic stem cells. It is also important that the public know that harvesting embryonic stem cells is not much different from abortion. It is also essential to understand that the body of a human female biologically destroys or discards hundred of eggs cells through the natural course.
The scientific group, in turn, should be patient enough to explain the area of embryonic stem cell research. I think that the ethical debate on the use of embryonic stem cells for research originates mainly from the miscommunication, misunderstanding and misrepresentation of the concept of embryonic stem cells. In addition, the public only relies on the information that is released by senators and stem cell research activists, who have actually distorted the concept of stem cell research.
Should the scientific world be humble enough to example the basics of stem cell research, including the misnomers and benefits of the research, the ethical debate on this issue would decrease and might even vanish. The debate on the ethical issues of stem cell research is just one of several topics that have been under intense scrutiny by the public eye. Other issues of human concern include the employment of genetically modified organisms (GMO), organic foods, genetic engineering and biotechnology.
It should be known that these technological innovations were basically created to improve the quality of life and not to destroy existing life forms. Everything that interacts with human beings has its benefits and disadvantages, yet these biomedical breakthroughs are the usual focus of attention of the public. However, if we weigh the benefits and risks of stem cell research, we will realize that the benefits of stem cell research far outweighs the disadvantages that may result from the use of this technology.
We should always remember that decades ago, so many lives were lost from bacterial infection because antibiotics were not discovered yet. Today, antibiotics are a common treatment regime for bacterial infections, which is a huge benefit to human health, but it also has resulting in the creation of drug-resistant strains of bacteria. The same setting may also be observed in terms of stem cell research, but we should intelligently consider both sides of the technology.