Stem Cell Research as an Ethical Issue in the Field of Genetics
Stem cell technology is considered one of the miracles of the 21st century. It has emerged as one of the promising fields of study for preventing, curing, or even understanding the nature of debilitating and life-threatening diseases such as Parkinson’s disease and cancers. Despite this promising future, stem cell research has also been riddled with countless controversies. This is because it entails the manipulation of host cells, in this case, human cells for identifying the working of diseases and their possible methods of treatment. The use of such cells is considered to pose both beneficial and adverse effects on society. As will be shown, embryonic stem cell research has been hotly debated since it leads to the destruction of many fetuses for the sake of finding a cure to the aforementioned diseases. Also, human rights groups and individuals from religious circles have strongly opposed any intention or move by the federal government to fund stem cell research. As such, stem cell research can be seen as a contentious issue with the political, social, and moral impact that cannot be handled merely by scientific methods.
Background on Stem Cell Research
It is therefore important to explore the features of stem cell research before delving into considerations for addressing ethical issues involved and the duties of the society pertaining to stem cell research. Embryo, fetus, and adult cells are potential sources of stem cells since they can help repair worn-out tissues. Of the three, adult cells are the only category incapable of growing into new tissues. For instance, stem cells from the adult liver can only help in repairing the liver. Also, the growth of adult stem cells is a tedious task and requires large quantities of cells for replacing damaged tissues. On the other hand, both the fetal and embryonic stem cells are highly pluripotent hence used for developing different kinds of cells in the body.
Therefore, the development of embryos in in-vitro fertilization has provided hope for most couples with a fertility problem and the treatment of fatal diseases for most people. But, only a few embryos are used for addressing fertility problems, a large quantity of fertilized eggs end up in study institutions for stem cell research. This is the beginning of controversies since the resultant embryos are only discarded once the target of a particular stem cell research has been accomplished. Thus, the government and the public at large are in a dilemma of consenting to stem cell research and reaping from its benefits or protecting the life of these embryos.
Addressing the Ethical Issue in Stem Cell Research
As mentioned earlier, ethical issues surrounding stem cell research are far beyond the answers that can be provided by biomedicine. For instance, it has been argued that the provision of financial incentives to stem cell research could subtly lead to funding abortion. As such alternative measures have to be taken in resolving ethical dilemmas in stem cell research. The use of pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) in advanced cell technology (ACT) has provided this alternative (Religious Tolerance, 2005). ACT uses non-human embryos such as mouse embryos serving the same purpose as human stem cells from embryos. A set of mouse embryos are used for testing genetic problems and establishing a line of treatment. Unlike regular embryonic stem cell research, this does not lead to the killing of embryos. Another consideration is the use of therapeutic cloning techniques for producing stem cells that are perfectly matched to the genes of the individual with debilitating disease thus preventing the possibility for rejection (Weiss, 2005).
Responsibility of the Society About Stem Cell Research
As shown, stem cell research evokes a heated debate in contemporary society due to the differing views of both pro-life and biomedical circles. Society, especially the pro-choice groups and biomedical practitioners are fervently in support of embryonic stem cells. On the other divide, made mainly of the religious groups, embryonic stem cell research is strongly opposed. However, it is pertinent for society to respect the sanctity of life and strive towards finding other amicable solutions to the aforementioned dilemma. The application of ACT and the therapeutic cloning technique can help solve the dilemma.
Religious Tolerance. (2005). “Stem Cell Research: Methods of obtaining embryonic stem cells with, perhaps, fewer ethical objections.” Religious Tolerance. Web.
Weiss, R. (2005). “Mice Stem Cells Made without Harm to Embryos.” Washington Post. Web.