Stem cell research can change the entire human population’s health because of its enormous possibilities; the only hurdles that must be overcome are the misconceptions and the myths surrounding it. The paper shall attempt to demystify this discipline and give reasons why stem cell research should be allowed.
Why stem cell research should be allowed
Before examining the arguments for stem cell research, it is essential to first understand what the phenomenon entails to place these matters in context. Stem cell research is defined as advanced knowledge of the development of cells in animal and human bodies. The ultimate aim of this form of research is to offer new or healthy cells to replace dead cells that could be causing life-threatening situations. A stem cell normally emanates from a typical cell without any specialized skills. However, before dividing, the cell can be manipulated to carry out specialized functions. For instance, the cells may be placed in the pancreas for insulin secretion or in the heart as special cardiac organisms. Biologically speaking, all human beings possess blastocysts at the beginning of their lives and it is these blastocysts that cause the development of more complex tissues and hence organs such as the skin, the heart, and lungs. Therefore, stem cell research involves the process of cultivation of the formerly mentioned cells (body cells) into more useful forms for the human body. Since all human tissue can be generated from stem cells, then it is likely that the method can allow scientists to create organs such as limbs in the confines of their laboratories thus enabling them to deal with numerous health problems. (Shannon, 2006) Shown below is a diagrammatic illustration of what goes on in laboratories doing stem cell research
Stem cell research has great promise because it would allow human transplants without necessarily involving a living donor. More often than not, a lot of lives have been lost because patients are unable to secure donors especially matching ones. Recent statistics indicate that the ratio of waiting for patients to matching donors is overwhelming. This indicates that there is a need for a more effective system of accessing organs – stem cell research offers that needed an alternative. Some of the diseases that rely on organ donors or that could be effectively dealt with include:
- Parkinson’s disease
- Heart disease
Not only does stem cell research possess the potential to deal with current medical problems, but it also possesses the ability to prevent possible health complications. Since the phenomenon entails studying the entire human development process, then it is likely that there may be several issues that it could detect within the embryo that make it more liable to deformities during or after birth. (Sasson, 2004) In so doing, stem cell research could reduce the number of children who are born with defects. On top of that, it could also identify some of the problems that could be causing loss of pregnancy and thus minimize chances of the latter occurrences. This research can also go a long way in identifying the roots behind infertility and thus curb such incidences.
In human medicine, whenever a new drug or treatment has been discovered, it is often mandatory to test that drug in a section of the masses or among certain animals. The problem with this approach is that if the drug has some side effects, it can cause harm or even death to the test subjects. Consequently, any method that can provide a route for testing the drug without necessarily taking it to live individuals would be a welcome and beneficial concept. Stem cell research is this new concept since; it allows tests to be done among some cells thus minimizing the danger of causing harm to live human beings. (Eiseman, 2008)
Even opponents of stem cell research may not have substantial claims to back their assertions that there is indeed a problem with the adoption of this type of research. Most of them claim that scientists practicing the latter phenomenon tend to dehumanize the importance of fetuses or embryos. However, the problem is not with the research itself but it lies in the process of obtaining the stem cells. Unscrupulous doctors may use back door techniques to sell embryos or fetuses to stem cell scientists. If there was a way to reinforce the rule of law about such black market techniques, then it is likely that the controversy surrounding this research would no longer exist.
It should be noted that so far, stem cell research has not matured or reached its full potential, this means that it has only been successfully applied to bone marrow transplanting, however, there is indeed evidence to indicate that if properly facilitated, it could grow to become one of the most beneficial processes in medicine. However, these unexplored frontiers still do not undermine current medical successes. For example, for the past three decades, patients suffering from lymphoma and leukemia (which are all forms of cancer) have been treated using cells cultivated through stem cells i.e. those obtained either from the umbilical cord or from the bone marrow. It should be noted that past treatments such as chemotherapy have been more detrimental to the concerned parties. In this regard, whenever a cancer patient is treated through the latter therapy, some toxic agents are introduced into the body that not only destroy cancerous cells but also invades healthy cells. Stem cell transplants provide a solution to such a problem because they simply introduce new and healthy cells that may have been destroyed through the introduction of those new forms of treatment. Given such successes in the current medical field, it is essential that this practice should be continued in the scientific fraternity. (Mc Carthy & Dolores, 2004)
Some people have suggested that there are a number of promising alternatives out there that could be used instead of stem cell research. However, non of the alternatives they have offered can bring as much promise as stem cells do. For instance, they have suggested the use of adult cells. Adult stem cells are those nonspecialized stem cells that can be found in growing fetuses, newborns, children, and even adults. The problem with the use of such cells is that they tend to be specialized already. Very few of these cells can be utilized in developing tissue cells and they include blood and brain cells. Not only do these types of cells hinder further development, but they are not also practical in nature because they have a very low propensity for self replacement. On the other hand, an embryonic stem cell is the exact opposite; it can grow into any other type of body cell found in the body. Aside from that, when properly cultivated, a stem cell obtained from embryos can grow and replicate in large numbers and continuously. There are about two hundred different types of body cells and scientists are finding new ways of making embryonic stem cells grow into these types of cells. (Bellomo, 2004)
Another suggestion made by stem cell research opponents is that scientists can utilize IPS cells (induced pluripotent cells) during their research. The latter types of cells are simply adult cells that have been manipulated to become like embryonic cells. While the latter suggestion may seem like a plausible one, it may not have any practical applications because of the process of making IPS cells. Usually, scientists have to use viruses to change the configuration of an adult stem cell to that of an embryo and in the process of doing this, such cells become extremely susceptible to cancer. Consequently, when placed in the human body, they are likely to cause more harm than good to the concerned parties. It would therefore be more appropriate to consider the conventional cells used in stem cell research i.e. embryonic ones as these ones would not pose as much danger to a patient as IPS cells.
Stem cell research is also beneficial to the entire human population because, through it, scientists can study and understand the intricacies involved in transmitting diseases from parents to children. Some diseases such as sickle cell anemia and hemophilia are very notorious but hereditary. This form of research can provide avenues for understanding how those genetic conditions are transmitted and whether there are ways of halting the conveyance of such conditions. It should be noted here that the use of embryonic stem cells is a relatively new phenomenon in the field of medicine. This is large because they were isolated in the late nineties. Consequently, not as much work has been done on these types of cells. In the end, it is possible to understand why one can only talk of the promise that could emanate from these cells rather than the gins obtained from them. Generally speaking, stem cell researchers often argue that to boost the fight against modern-day diseases, it is essential to examine all possible frontiers including both adult and embryonic cells.
Additionally, some people have expressed concerns over the duration that will be required to yield substantial results from this kind of research. These individuals have argued that stem cell research takes up a lot of time and money but very few applications can be seen so far. This argument is misinformed because biomedical research is like that. It takes one and a half to three decades to yield substantial results and this is what has been happening in other researches as well. One of the successes of stem cell research i.e. bone marrow transplantation was made possible one and a half decades after the first trial. Consequently, one cannot utilize the length of time as a reason to forget about this research because so many science projects have been discovered only after adequate time allocation. In line with the latter argument is the fact that stem cell research’s findings may not be certain and that one cannot be sure of how the research will benefit the human population. However, this argument is devoid of support owing to the fact that many scientific procedures and principles were at first uncertain but were established after substantial research was done in those sectors. Examples of such procedures include cardiac bypasses, insulin therapy, antibiotics, kidney dialysis, and organ transplants. All the latter practices were given adequate time for research and hence sound results were generated through them. The same opportunity needs to be granted to stem cell research because even though its results have not been certified, it has the potential to change humanity’s way of life. (Bedford, 2007)
The embryos used during stem cell research have also been another object of controversy in this debate. In this process, embryos used are obtained from in vitro fertilization after the embryos have lived for four to five days. Usually, the latter embryos look like extremely small dots that are composed of slightly fewer than one hundred cells. Those cells possess no specialized tissues, heart, or nervous system. There is a distinct difference between an embryo and fetus because fetuses only exist after a period of eight weeks from fertilization. These fetuses normally possess some internal organs and their organ systems have normally started to function at that point. Consequently, since an embryo and a fetus are separate and distinct, it is essential to acknowledge that arguments against stem cell research based on abusing human life do not hold any sound backing scientifically. No embryos are expedited from a woman’s body to be used in this research; this means that the sanctity of life has been respected and it cannot be equated to other controversial areas such as abortion. Abortion involves the willful elimination of growing and developing human fetuses from women’s bodies and this is very different from what goes on in stem cell research. (Bellomo, 2004)
Some misinformed parties have asserted that stem cell research collaborates with doctors who perform abortions so that they can access embryos and carry out their research. However, such an argument is not scientifically viable- embryonic stem cell research requires four to five-day-old embryos. Fetuses from abortion are too old and specialized to be of any use to stem cell researchers.
Stem cell research enjoys majority backing within the country. Statistics indicate that about sixty percent of the population (irrespective of their religion or political opinions) actually supports stem cell research. These very individuals further added that they would be willing to contribute towards the creation of an embryo needed for stem cell research. If the majority of the country’s population has seen the importance of this vital part of science, then other opposing groups should also reconsider their opinions on the matter.
This kind of research is pro-life. Contrary to some opinions, stem cell research can combat human suffering and therefore go a long way in ensuring that human life is prolonged or that it will be of better quality than it was without the research. There is no basis to oppose stem cell research because it lacks moral backing since most ethical principles and theories would support it. (Mc Carthy & Dolores, 2004)
For instance, the utilitarian principle on ethics is such that actions are considered right if they can maximize the overall good available to a large number of people. Stem cell research scores very well on both fronts because through its breakthroughs, it can minimize disease and the suffering associated with it. Also, because the findings can be applied to any part of the world, then there is no limit to the number of people who can benefit from it. This makes an ethically sound scientific practice. Additionally, deontologists believe that the morality of actions is judged by the principles that have been followed rather than the consequences that emanate out of them. In other words, a deontologist judging the morality of stem cell research would look at how this kind of research is done and whether it is right. Since it has been shown that the embryos are obtained ethically and with due consent and that no human life is infringed in any manner, then the latter ethical principle would hold that stem cell research is a moral action. The theory of distributive justice can also be another gauge for assessing stem cell research morality. In distributive justice, it is believed that one should look out for the interests of others and not merely lookout for what one is set out to gain from a certain project. Stem cell research epitomizes such principles because its projects are being done for the benefit of future generations or other people’s benefit. The welfare improvement that could arise out of stem cell research by far outweighs all the possible glory or financial gain that scientists and other stakeholders could get from it. Through these three moral lenses, it has been seen that stem cell research is an ethical concept that could benefit the human population.
Lastly, there are numerous regulations from both national and international health bodies that will ensure that the research is carried out properly. Part of the reason why there is so much fear surrounding this concept is that people have assumed that there aren’t sufficient laws to govern this practice, however, statistics indicate that there are several review boards, institutes, and academies that have created guidelines for this kind of research and it would therefore be safe to carry it out.
There are numerous myths surrounding stem cell research and these myths have been used to counter pursuance of the discipline. However, it has been established that there is no link between stem cell research and some of these vices. In fact, it holds great promise in the field of medicine. This form of research should therefore be upheld.
- Bellomo, M. (2004). The stem cell divide. New York: Routledge
- Eiseman, E. (2008). Contribution to public policy on Bioethics. New York: Prentice hall
- Shannon, T. (2006). Theological studies and human stem cell therapy. London: McMillan
- Mc Carthy, J. & Dolores, D. (2004). New reproductive technologies and ethics. Oxford: OUP
- Bedford, H. (2007). Stem cell research and human cloning. NY: Wiley and Sons Publishers
- Sasson, A. (2004). Medical Biotechnology. NY: Blackwell- Publishers